abdomen: The belly; the part of the body between chest and pelvis. Classical Latin abdomen may derive from abdere, to stow away, cover (in the sense of concealing the viscera) but is more likely borrowed from a non–Indo European language.
acharnement: Bloodthirsty fury, from the French for the act of giving a taste of flesh to a hunting dog or falcon.
arse: “The buttocks, or hind part of an animal. To hang an arse, a vulgar phrase, signifying to be tardy, sluggish, or dilatory.”—Samuel Johnson, Dict. of the English Language
bloody: Long taboo as an intensifier; it once constituted the strongest expletive available, as reflected in the many euphemistic forms to which it has given rise (bleeding, blerry, plurry, perhaps blooming). In most contexts its taboo status is now lost; the process of normalization began in Australia.
Blutanklage: An unfounded accusation that Jewish people use blood of Christians in religious rituals, esp. in preparation of Passover bread. German (1840 or earlier).
body fascism: Preoccupation with, or prejudice or discrimination based on, body shape and appearance.
bollock: A testicle. In standard use until 17th cent., after which it is regarded as coarse slang. To drop a bollock is to commit a serious mistake.
bowel: The alimentary canal below the stomach; intestine. From Middle English buel, bouel, late Latin botellus, pudding, sausage; late popular Latin, a small intestine, diminutive of botulus, a sausage.
buggery: Abominable heresy; anal intercourse. From French bougre, Latin Bulgarus, Bulgarian, name given to neo-gnostic sect the Bogomils, who came from Bulgaria in 11th cent.; later applied to other heretics to whom such practices were ascribed, also to usurers.
bummaclot: A cloth used to wipe one’s nether parts; a Jamaican curse word.
butcher: A person who slaughters animals or dresses their flesh; a dealer in meat. From Middle English bocher, boucher, Provençal boc, he-goat. The literal sense is thus “dealer in goat’s flesh.”
cannibal: A human that eats human flesh. From Caniba, Columbus’ version of the Carib’s name for themselves. In 1504 a royal decree issued by Queen Isabella specified that only Indians who were cannibals could be enslaved. She deemed Caribs “undeserving of Christian commiseration,” thus condemning them to slavery and extermination.
carnivorous: “Addicted to the cruelty of devouring the timorous vegetarian, his heirs and assigns.”—Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary
charqui: Beef that is preserved by cutting into thin slices and drying in the wind and sun. From Quichua (Peruvian) ccharqui, dried slice of flesh or hung beef. Jerked beef derives from corruption of jerkin, which occurs in 1612, and jerk (v.) in 1748.
crepitus ventris: The breaking of wind. From Latin crepāre, to crack, to rattle.
cunt: (Derog.) The female genitals. According to OED, this is the English word most avoided as taboo, but it was not considered inherently obscene or offensive in medieval times. Recorded earliest in place names, e.g., the street name Gropecuntelane, Oxford (now Grove Passage and Magpie Lane). May have been applied at an early date to topographical features, such as a cleft in a small hill or mound (Cuntelowe, Warwickshire, 1221; now lost), a wooded gulley or valley, or a cleft with a stream running through it.
dead man’s hand: A traditional cure for goiters and ulcers was the touch of a dead man’s hand, preferably that of one who had an untimely death. Seekers attended public executions and paid the hangman to let them rub the corpse’s hand across their body as it hung on the gallows.
drutling: “A dog or horse that frequently stops in its way and ejects a small quantity of dung at intervals.”—Etymological Dict. of the Scottish Language
fat boys: Boys or men employed to lubricate axles of wagons; also fatters.
fatso: (Off.) An overweight individual. Perhaps from Fats, nickname for obese person; also compared with German Fettsau, fat sow.
flesh: The soft parts of a body, esp. those made of skeletal muscle. From Old High German fleisc, flesh, perhaps from Old English flean, to flay.
grass: “All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it; indeed, the people are grass.”—Isaiah 40: 6-7
gut-head: (Obs.) One stupid from overfeeding. “A very Gut-head, he hath Asses’ Eares direct.”—John Gaule, 1629
lookism: Prejudice or discrimination on the basis of appearance.
marionette lines: Plastic surgeon slang for crease lines that go from mouth to chin. Also known as puppet lines or drool lines.
olisbos: A dildo. From ancient Greek ὄλισβος, perhaps re-formation of ὄλισθος, slipperiness; in Hellenistic Greek, an unknown fish with slippery skin.
pecker checker: (U.S. mil. slang) A medical officer who examines personnel for symptoms of venereal disease; later, any medical worker.
rakshasa: In Hindu mythology, a man-eating demon that haunts cemeteries. In Bengali, a rakhosh is a person who eats incessantly.
Sitzfleisch: German loanword lit. translating to sitting flesh; (fig.) the ability to endure or persist in an activity.
spare prick: (Brit. slang) A person conspicuously (esp. embarrassingly) out of place in a situation; someone idle, ineffectual, or superfluous.
unfleshed: (Fig.) Untried, inexperienced, new.
windigo: In Algonquian folklore, a cannibalistic giant; the transformation of a person who has eaten human flesh. Hence windigo psychosis, a disorder in which the subject craves human flesh and believes he or she is being transformed into a creature with a heart of ice. From Ojibwa wiitiko.
yam: (v.) To eat heartily, with gusto. From West Indian, derived from West African words such as Hausa nama, flesh, meat; Fulah nyama, to eat (the same word as the tuber).
Explore Flesh, the Fall 2016 issue of Lapham’s Quarterly.