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Old 07-25-2002, 08:56 PM
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Etymology of Synonyms of Breasts

Of the many, many synonyms of breasts two evolutions escape me: boobs and hooters. Tits is a corruption of teats. Knockers is a reference to a motion. Jugs seems to have two reasons 1) the shape a jug and 2) the fact that both can carry liquid. I can't get boobs and hooters, though. I tried the OED website, but I found that it has become a subscription site. Help me, Dopers.
Old 07-25-2002, 10:55 PM
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Boobs doesn't appear in print in English until the early 1900's. It is a variant of bubby which meant breasts back as far as 1655 in print.

The term jugs only appears in print around the 1950's.

Hooters appears about the same time, the 1960's or so.
Old 07-25-2002, 11:18 PM
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The term "Gams" fascinates me. Its old enough that I can start commenting on girls "gams" to their faces and they wont know what Im talking about.
Old 07-25-2002, 11:27 PM
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This site has some interesting information on the origin of the base word.

The slang terms for popular body regions are huge in number, so there may be some hesitancy in running them all to ground. "The Best of Maledicta" includes "titties", "braces and bits", "east and west", "Jersey City", "thousand pities", "towns and countries", and "fainting fits".

In terms of the OP, "hooters" seems straightforward: The bulb of the horn one squeezes on early automobiles or on bicycles. Similar texture and shape. And the sound, well, that's just a nice fantasy.

As for "boobs", searching on "boobs etymology" will get you this: http://breastchronicles.net/zine/etymology.shtml

where some apparently overeducated and oversexed nutter has come up with this fairly convincing definition:

"Boobs, Boo·bies
Function: noun
Etymology: modification of Spanish bobo, from Latin balbus stammering, probably of imitative origin
Date: circa 1603"
Old 07-26-2002, 12:07 AM
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Quote:
"Boobs, Boo·bies Function: noun
Etymology: modification of Spanish bobo, from Latin balbus stammering, probably of imitative origin
Date: circa 1603"
Warning! Ignore the above as it has nothing to do with breasts.

The creator of the site listed by partly_warmer totally blew that one. The website ostensibly deals with breasts, but the poor boob who listed the cite above was quoting what the M-W has to say about the origin/etymology of the term booby=stupid person rather than when the term booby=breast came into use.

What a bobo!
Old 07-26-2002, 12:21 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by Pythagoras
The term "Gams" fascinates me. Its old enough that I can start commenting on girls "gams" to their faces and they wont know what Im talking about.
They don't know what you're talking about? The question is whether you know what you're talking about. Gams are legs, not breasts.
Old 07-26-2002, 02:12 AM
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Quote:
Originally posted by samclem
The creator of the site listed by partly_warmer totally blew that one. The website ostensibly deals with breasts, but the poor boob who listed the cite above was quoting what the M-W has to say about the origin/etymology of the term booby=stupid person rather than when the term booby=breast came into use.
Oh, very well. On reflection, with barely two Spanish stones to strike together, i tend to agree with you.

Instead, I give you this http://mindlesscrap.com/origins/more-a.htm, which I make no claims for, but which seems prefered.
Old 07-26-2002, 07:52 PM
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Thanks, everyone.

Pythagoras, I agree. "Gams" is a great word. I actually met a short girl with the last name "Gambacorta" (short leg). I love Romance languages. I met another with the name "Bonavitacola" (good life cola according to every Italian teacher and speaker I ask). That has nothing to do with body parts, but cool anyway.
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Old 07-26-2002, 09:12 PM
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partly_warmer. Your last site ain't much better than the previous one.

The new one states
Quote:
While there's never been a definitive link between the slang word for breast and the lumps that appeared on the bodies of victims of the Black Death or bubonic plague, the use of the word "boob" started sometime around the time of the Black Plaque. This is the history as presented in Cassell's Dictionary of Slang

.Bubo - from the 14th century, refers to a swelling of some kind. The word bubonic is derived from bubo.
Bubby - from the late 17th century, refers to a breast or both breasts together.
Bube - from the late 18th century, refers to a venereal disease. Bube also is a derivative of bubo.
Booby - started around the 1910s. It has been established that it came from Bubby.
Boob - started in the 1940s, and traced to the word booby.
Just picking apart this statement
Quote:
the use of the word "boob" started sometime around the time of the Black Plaque.
is pretty easy.

First, I am not aware that there was a problem with teeth that were discolored in that time period. Hell, probably everyone that still had their teeth had black/brown/ugly teeth.

That site is written by a moron. He says that "boob" started being used around the 1350's(Black Plaque(sic)), and here I assume he means in London. He then, later, says that the word boob "started in the 1940s, and traced to the word booby. Which he traces back to the 1920's.

Boob just doesn't appear before the 20th century.

There is no way that "bubo" which is a word in the 14th century and also in older Latin has a demonstrable link to "bubbies" a few centuries later. No respectable etymologist has suggested so.
Old 07-26-2002, 11:42 PM
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samclem, i confess i did no thorough research on the word, not expecting (as I should) that any word with such emotionally loaded connotations must be the subject of any number of crackpot etymologies. I thought the OP was interesting, and was trying to keep it rolling.

You didn't help, however, by not giving the cites for the definitions you supplied. I assume they're from the OED?

By-the-by, I didn't choose my second, more considered, citation without conformation. I had heard the definition of boob relating to the Black Death in university.
Old 07-27-2002, 12:38 AM
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Sorry about lack of sources.

While "bubby" is indeed from the OED, the other info is from Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Vol. I by J.E. Lighter.

I usually just say "....Lighter says" but forgot to this time.
Old 07-29-2002, 12:53 AM
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Well, the problem I've had running "boobs" to ground, so to speak, is manifold, now. There are several similar words, and many sources do not supply a citation in a sentence, so it's not easy to see whether the word has the correct sense and whether it's just been misspelled.

Somewhat similar words are: boobs, boob, booby, boobie, bubbies, bubby, bubo.

Various theories are that it came from German (bubbi), or is imitative, meaning, it's possibly baby talk.

Neither Merriam-Webster nor the OED tie all these "breast" words together, and given that they both used to shy away from investigations of risqué words, the underlying scholarship to decide what the "ultimate" origin is may not be in place.

Bubo definitely seems connected with the Black Death. It's an enlarged node. Ugh. I'd give a cite, but it's not pleasant. Suffice it to say, these things look like little breasts. Who knows whether it's a part of the etymology of one of these other words?
Old 07-30-2002, 12:02 AM
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partly_warmer.

I'll try to lay it out in good order for you, to the best of my ability.

There was a Latin word, bubo, which describe a swelling of glandular parts of a body which was infected with bubonic plague. The affected parts were quite often the groin and the arm pit. The Greeks also had such a word, something like boubon which meant groin.

The term/word bubo appears in print in English in 1398. It was borrowed from MIddle English.

Any mention of a word with "bubxxx" meaning "breasts" doesn't appear in print in English until 1655. It was repeated in print in 1675. In both cases it was spelled bubbies.
But you have to remember, these people back in these early days weren't as bashful as we are/were some 500 years later. If a breast was a boob, they'd have said it. There wasn't a lot of time for prudishness. And the OED doesn't censor words such as "boob." FUCK and cocksucker may be another matter, but they ain't what were're discussing here.

So, the first time a word appears in print in English as a slang synonym for "breasts" is 1655. 250 years after the word "bubo" shows up in a plague reference.

I'll admit the fact that they both start with bu is tempting to hang one's hat on. But there just isn't any other reason to connect the words.

Bubonic as a word show up in 1795, a bit late to be included in the discussion.

You suggest that the word bubbi is Germanic and may have been a source. Can you provide a link/source?

Of course boob, booby, boobs, boobie, are all 20th century concoctions, when referring to breasts.

Just because swollen lymph nodes may look like a breast, you can't just assume that may be the origin. It could be, but the evidence is probably against it.
Old 07-30-2002, 03:11 AM
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Excuse for not stating suppositions clearly. I actually spent some time going through books and Internet searching, and was beginning to suspect the necessary foundation to find these derivations isn't readily forthcoming.

1) As far as I know, you're right that people were less bashful about "crude" speech 400 years ago. However, the OED started as a product of Victorian morality, the extreme opposite, and did not encourage investigation--in the first edition--of impolite language. Quote from the forward to the supplement to the first edition: "After careful consideration of the matter, it was decided to admit to the Supplement the sexually taboo words formerly thought too gross and vulgar to be given countenance within the covers of a dictionary." I strongly doubt the Victorian supression was limited to just words like "fuck".

2) I can only guess, but the Black Death "bubo" seems a red herring in all this. It sounds suspeciously like some tidy historian trying to explain that bubos look like little breasts. I'm agreeing, it probably isn't germaine to the central modern word senses.

3) Here's the cite for the German word "bubbi", meaning "teat". http://takeourword.com/Issue052.html. I don't know much German, so I can't judge whether their statements are correct. (Which *doesn't* mean, by the way, that I don't have some general sense of whether it's convincing).

4) If "bubby" is really imitative, as Webster's suggests, then a good part of etymology goes out the window. If two children from different Germanic languages were transcribed talking baby-talk...well...I wouldn't accept either the interpretation or the inscription as hard fact. The word "imitative" to me, is etymological slight-of-hand meaning: "No clue, it sounds like baby talk".

5) I'm distrustful, after years of reading the OED, of any etymology without example sentences. A word can shift form and spelling quite suddenly, if popularized by some event. That's why I'm not looking for a Greek or Latin root for boobs, and I'd certainly agree with you that that fact that several words starting with bu or some permutation is no reason to assume they have a relationship.

I'd be more convinced if I could see these words quoted in historical sentences, but that information doesn't seem readily available. As it is, I think we're emeshed in the thankless task of stringing together quite marginal sources previous to 1900.
Old 09-25-2016, 05:39 PM
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Boob derivations?

Always wondered about derivation of 'hooters'...now can add that as connected to the old squeeze-bulb car horns..more mind-flotsam!
Sorry, my sources are scattered over a longish lifetime collecting all sorts of trivia.
So, back to derivation of "boobs"..
It seems a bit cloistered, that main dictionaries omit possible other-cultural sources; that is rather like claiming the history of the world only includes modern European, not Asians, Africans, or Native Americas, etc. to put things into better context.
Consider how basic nurturing is; therefore, basic words that cross cultures easily, often hiding in plain sight, or behind closed doors, references to the family nursemaid, grandma, etc., and other affectionate colloquial terms/polite euphemisms used for nurturing persons or body parts.
The Yiddish name for grandmother is bubbe. Other transliterated forms include bube, bubby and bubbie. It may even link to the Russian 'babushka', some contact that to 'baba', the ancient Russian word for married woman [who breastfeeds her babies] and easily morphs to 'boob' or 'boobie'.
There's even a possibility of it deriving farther back, related to Hindi for 'Auntie', as that title is commonly used in many cultures worldwide, for any woman close to a child who also nurtures/guides, if the Mother is absent: "Bū'ā".
In olden times [more than about 100 years ago, though it differs by where/when in the world, as cultures vary widely], some women breast feed babies into old age [if recalled rightly, the oldest recorded breastfeeding woman was in her mid-80's]
Breast feeding was less restricted to the Mother in many tribal or other cultural context. Fairly common for tribal women to pass a hungry baby to whichever nursing woman was handy, if they had to go do something else, for instance. Or, in stratified societies, upper-class women hired [or had slaves or indentured servants] women to nurse [breastfeed] their babies. These could be any age woman who was lactating. Including lactating grandmothers.
Grandmother is a nurturer; breastfeeding is a nurturing activity. Aunties are nurturers. And, babies often cannot pronounce words, and reduce 'breast' down to 'boob', Bubbie, or similar. "Boob" in reference to breast, seems logically connected, because it has to do with nurturing...and it rolls out of the mouth easily...and boobs are funny, as any child knows....as do 'sophomoric' teens...who better to spread unofficial [slang or 2nd language] words?
Yiddish grandmothers have been called Bubbie [sp varies], for at least several hundred years. Also, Bubbaleh [various spelling], a term of endearment/near to the heart...surely nurturing breasts are 'dear' [literally, life depended on them]?
Words often lack a sharp derivation; esp. for colloquial, informal words. Mashing together ancient Russian Baba + Yiddish Bubbie + societal closed-door habits and endearing terms, could easily be where "boob" came from.
Old 09-25-2016, 08:35 PM
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There's a theory in linguistics, I can't remember what it's called, that says that people tend to associate B sounds with round, soft things, and K sounds with sharp, angular things. I think that this has even been found to hold across widely different cultures. If true, it would certainly be consistent with breasts being called "boobies", or something of the sort.
Old 09-25-2016, 09:45 PM
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Chimonger, what you're doing is called "folk etymology". (It's also called "necroposting", since you're replying to a post that was made over 14 years ago.) Folk etymology is fun and entertaining, but it's useless as a method to discover actual word origins. Many words look related but aren't, and many words are related but don't look similar due to language drift over time. There are scientific methods for finding word origins, based on studying documented uses of words over time. Unfortunately the relevant information is not always preserved, so it's not always possible to discover the actual evolution of words. But making up stories about them doesn't usefully fill the gaps.

Here is what Etymology Online says about "boobs", which unfortunately as in many cases is not very definitive:

Quote:
"breasts," 1929, U.S. slang, probably from much older term boobies (late 17c.), related to 17c. bubby; perhaps ultimately from Latin puppa, literally "little girl," hence, in child-talk, "breast." Or else it is a natural formation in English (compare French poupe "teat," German dialectal Bubbi, etc.).
--Mark
Old 09-25-2016, 09:58 PM
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Chronos, what you're referring to is the Bouba/kiki effect, where both American English speakers and Indian Tamil speakers associate "bouba" with a rounded shape and "kiki" with an angular shape. It is interesting that the "round" word they use, bouba, is so similar to "boobs", but it's hard to say whether it's actually relevant to the development of the word (or even whether the causality was the other way around; maybe the English-speaking researchers chose the word bouba because of unconscious influence from "boobs").

--Mark

Last edited by markn+; 09-25-2016 at 09:59 PM.
Old 09-25-2016, 09:58 PM
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Originally Posted by Chimonger View Post
Mashing together ancient Russian Baba + Yiddish Bubbie + societal closed-door habits and endearing terms, could easily be where "boob" came from.
This is folk etymology, usually defined as someone looking through a pile of words and making associations because they feel like it should be true. I can't think of a single case in history in which a real world derivation developed this way.

You have to go through actual sentences written by actual people for real world etymology. Not as much fun. Not as easy. But at the end someone might take you seriously. Which will never happen with folk etymology. Sorry.

Etymonline.com wasn't around in 2002 when this thread started. Here's what it has to say:
Quote:
boobs (n.)
"breasts," 1929, U.S. slang, probably from much older term boobies (late 17c.), related to 17c. bubby; perhaps ultimately from Latin puppa, literally "little girl," hence, in child-talk, "breast." Or else it is a natural formation in English (compare French poupe "teat," German dialectal Bubbi, etc.).
Note that the history dates back to the 1600s in England, which would toss out any possible derivation from Yiddish. And as said earlier, just because two words start with "bu" doesn't make them related.

ETA: markn+'s post wasn't there when I composed this. But great minds...

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Old 09-25-2016, 11:02 PM
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Wait, so I've been a little tit all this while? And this is a good thing? No wonder you don't see a lot of Jewish football players.

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Old 09-26-2016, 10:36 AM
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From the Oxford Onlne Dictionary:

Quote:
1950s (originally US): abbreviation of booby, from dialect bubby, of uncertain origin; perhaps related to German dialect Bübbi teat.
We can now add man boobs (obvious), and side boob (the side part of a woman's breast, as exposed by a revealing item of clothing.)
Old 09-26-2016, 10:44 AM
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Originally Posted by Pythagoras View Post
The term "Gams" fascinates me. Its old enough that I can start commenting on girls "gams" to their faces and they wont know what Im talking about.
You now know that "gams" are legs - specifically thighs, and presumably from gammon.

There is also gamahuche, derived from the French, meaning To perform oral sex, especially cunnilingus. Used in Victorian pornography where French words were often used, maybe to confound the censor. Pure speculation on my part but I wonder if there is a connection.

Last edited by bob++; 09-26-2016 at 10:45 AM.
Old 09-26-2016, 10:48 AM
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Originally Posted by bob++ View Post
From the Oxford Onlne Dictionary:



We can now add man boobs (obvious), and side boob (the side part of a woman's breast, as exposed by a revealing item of clothing.)
Don't forget underboob. And Urban Dictionary has overboob. Not to mention a long list of other coinages including boob as a base. (No links since even a picture of a clothed boob may be NSFW.)

Wait. How is this relevant to etymology? That's just language at work.
Old 09-26-2016, 02:06 PM
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I always assumed that "hooters" came from the resemblance to the face of an owl.
Old 09-26-2016, 02:30 PM
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Originally Posted by bob++ View Post
You now know that "gams" are legs - specifically thighs, and presumably from gammon.
I had understood the word to be pretty much a direct cognate with the French "jambe" from which "gammon" and "ham" both also derive.
Old 09-26-2016, 02:39 PM
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Originally Posted by leahcim View Post
I had understood the word to be pretty much a direct cognate with the French "jambe" from which "gammon" and "ham" both also derive.
Etymology Online agrees with you.

Quote:
gams (n.)
"legs," 1781, low slang, probably the same word as gamb "leg of an animal on a coat of arms" (1727) and ultimately from Middle English gamb "leg," which is from French (see gammon). Now, in American English slang, especially with reference to well-formed legs of pretty women, but this was not the original sense.
and

Quote:
gammon (n.)
"ham or haunch of a swine," especially when smoked and cured, early 15c., gambon, from Old North French gambon "ham" (Old French jambon, 13c.), from gambe (Old French jambe) "leg," from Late Latin gamba "leg of an animal" (see gambol (n.)).
Old 09-26-2016, 02:52 PM
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Originally Posted by Fotheringay-Phipps View Post
I always assumed that "hooters" came from the resemblance to the face of an owl.
This is the only site I found with a stab at etymology. The picture posted there is necessary: it's of round tweeters.
Quote:
Neither the OED nor Merriam-Webster lists the vagina sense of cooter, but the latter does list the breast sense of hooter, which seems to be roughly the same age but has a much more transparent etymology: car horns, being things that hoot, are hooters, and car horns look vaguely like breasts:
Car horns? Well, maybe.

The sense of men hooting at a woman, the way owls hoot, does seem more likely a connection than the face of an owl. And synecdoche matters.
Quote:
According to Green’s Dictionary of Slang, people in the 1980s also used hooter to refer to a woman with large breasts, much as they used cooter and coozie to talk about both a woman and a part of her body. These are examples of synecdoche, a figure of speech in which a part is used to refer to a whole. This particular brand of synecdoche, which many consider sexist, happens with tedious regularity—for instance, when people talk about “chasing pussy” or “getting some sweet ass.” (Synecdoche for general insults like dick, asshole, and cunt is related but not quite the same.) So if you reduce a woman to no more than a cooter and some hooters, don’t be surprised if she snaps back and makes some noise. She’s got etymology on her side.
Old 09-26-2016, 03:01 PM
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Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase View Post
This is the only site I found with a stab at etymology. The picture posted there is necessary: it's of round tweeters.

Car horns? Well, maybe.

The sense of men hooting at a woman, the way owls hoot, does seem more likely a connection than the face of an owl. And synecdoche matters.
owl
Old 09-26-2016, 03:08 PM
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Fotheringay-Phipps, do you have any evidence for your owl theory, or did you just invent it?

It seems quite unlikely to me -- for one thing, pretty much every vertebrate on the planet has two eyes in its head, and those of most predators face forward. Why would owls be singled out?

--Mark
Old 09-26-2016, 03:13 PM
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I invented/assumed it.

The point about owls is that besides for their eyes facing forward on a fairly flat face (which is actually pretty unusual) they also have a larger rounded demarcation which covers most of their face, and then the eyes in middle of that and the pupils in middle of that, which correspond to breasts, areolas, nipples.
Old 09-26-2016, 03:21 PM
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99 words for boobs.
Old 09-26-2016, 03:36 PM
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Is there also a bird called a boobie? Where did that name come from?
Old 09-26-2016, 03:39 PM
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Originally Posted by md2000 View Post
Is there also a bird called a boobie? Where did that name come from?
Spanish:

Quote:
booby (n.)
1590s, from Spanish bobo "stupid person, slow bird" (used of various ungainly seabirds), probably from Latin balbus "stammering," from an imitative root (see barbarian).
Cite.

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Old 09-26-2016, 06:07 PM
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Originally Posted by Wolfian View Post
Knockers is a reference to a motion.
I had assumed so, too, until I saw just the right door knocker with the proper size bell at the bottom. Then a light bulb went off. Now, it is still not a perfect image as the "nipple" is at the very bottom of the knocker, but the general shape is pretty darn close, for some door knockers. Which isn't to say that it isn't named after a motion, but I think that door knockers had something to do with it as well.
SPOILER:
Semprini
Old 09-26-2016, 06:41 PM
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Originally Posted by Fotheringay-Phipps View Post
The point about owls is that besides for their eyes facing forward on a fairly flat face (which is actually pretty unusual) they also have a larger rounded demarcation which covers most of their face, and then the eyes in middle of that and the pupils in middle of that, which correspond to breasts, areolas, nipples.
Look at the howlers on that girl!

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Old 09-26-2016, 06:50 PM
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I don't think it's as close of a match. But even if it was, it wouldn't make a difference. The average English-speaking person rarely encounters those particular monkeys, while owls are fairly common.
Old 09-26-2016, 08:20 PM
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Now we just need to figure out why one would compare breasts to two young fawns.
Old 09-26-2016, 10:36 PM
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They feed among the lilies?
Old 09-27-2016, 07:33 AM
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Originally Posted by partly_warmer View Post
The slang terms for popular body regions are huge in number, so there may be some hesitancy in running them all to ground. "The Best of Maledicta" includes...."Jersey City"
In the UK we have "Bristols" (because there is a football team called Bristol City).

So the US does have rhyming slang, as well as us - cf. also raspberry (+tart=.......work it out for yourself).
Old 09-27-2016, 08:58 AM
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Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
Now we just need to figure out why one would compare breasts to two young fawns.
I dunno, why do they get called puppies?
Old 09-27-2016, 09:18 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Exapno Mapcase View Post
This is folk etymology, usually defined as someone looking through a pile of words and making associations because they feel like it should be true. I can't think of a single case in history in which a real world derivation developed this way.
I have to correct this. "Folk etymology" is a specific term in linguistics to describe how words change from an unfamiliar pronunciation to one more familiar to the speaker.

One example is "turtle." The French word for the shelled lizard was "tortue." The word "turtle" already existed in English as the name of a bird (for the sound it made). English speakers had trouble pronouncing "tortue," so, over time, started using the the word "turtle," which is close. The bird took on the name "turtledove" to differentiate.

"Isinglass" is another example, changed by folk etymology from the Dutch "huizenblaas." There's also the Picketwire Canyon in Colorado, originally named "Purgatoire" (purgatory) by French speakers.

What we're talking about in this thread are etymological urban legends.
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Old 09-27-2016, 10:06 AM
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Whatever the technical term, there is a separate meaning for folk etymology that is applied to inventing plausible just-so stories, mentioned as Class II on this page. That's the one we mainly see on this Board.
Old 09-27-2016, 10:55 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MrDibble View Post
I dunno, why do they get called puppies?
Some comedian or script writer, looking for a funny description of a large breasted girl running, says "like two puppies fighting under a blanket". The phrase sticks and gets shortened to "puppies".
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