All The Ridiculous Historical Euphemisms For Sex

by JR Thorpe

You may be surprised to find out that many of our most popular sexual euphemisms, including "humping," "shagging," "getting frisky," and even good old "f*ck," aren't modern inventions; they've been part of the English language for centuries. While it may go against what you've learned about history in school, people have always loved to use ridiculous euphemisms to describe filthy things (the F word is actually one of the oldest sexual euphemisms in the English language, first recorded in 1508).

Why? Well, our embrace of saucy slang was partially designed to get around societal restrictions on dirty talk in the past; but sex euphemisms have also always been popular because, well, using slang is fun. Which is why, in addition to terms that we still use today, the English language is also littered with hilarious, ridiculous, outdated phrases used to describe sex — old-fashioned expressions which make no sense to our modern ears.

These days, since speaking frankly is the norm, making up elaborate euphemisms for sexy time is mostly left to either the deeply religious or frat boys looking for a laugh. So if you were thinking of using any of these 26 old-timey sex euphemisms in your next dirty talk session, beware — while we might find these no longer used terms funny or charming out of context, using them while you're actually getting down might send the wrong idea, and leave you with one very puzzled partner on your hands.

1. Make The Beast With Two Backs

Time Period: 1500s to 1600s

Of all the past euphemisms for sex, this is one you're most likely to know — mainly because Iago uses it in Othello. And, of course, it's a pretty visual image.

2. Give Someone A Green Gown

Time Period: 1300s

Oddly innocent-sounding, this term specifically means having sex in the grass or on a hillside.

3. Engage In Three To One (And Bound To Lose)

Time Period: 1790s

This one is a gambling metaphor, and was usually said by men.

4. Make Feet For Children's Stockings

Time Period: 1780s

This is just a much creepier and more elaborate way of saying "baby-making".

5. Shaking Of The Sheets

Time Period: 1500s to 1600s

This is actually a reference to a medieval kind of dance, though if you wanted to be really wink-wink, nudge-nudge about it, you'd add "without music" to the end of the phrase.

6. The Service Of Venus

Time Period: 1390s

This one's actually almost sweet. Venus, of course, was the Roman goddess of love.

7. Play Nug-A-Nug

Time Period: 1500 to 1510

The actual meaning of the word nug has been lost to history, but a lot of English slang uses "playing something or other" as a euphemism for sex. Which is charming, because it at least implies that everybody's having fun.

8. Shoot Twixt Wind And Water

Time Period: Late 1600s

This is anatomically correct, as well as vaguely poetic. Full points.

9. Ride Below The Crupper

Time Period: 1570s

The "crupper" is a piece of horse riding kit that keeps the horse's tail erect. So this probably means anal sex, or at least doing it from behind.

10. Dance The Paphian Jig

Time Period: 1650s

Anything that contains the word Paphian relates to the city of Paphos on Cyprus, which was sacred to the cult of Aphrodite (who was, of course, the goddess of love and sex).

11. Labor Leather

Time Period: 1500 to 1600

Leather needs a lot of work to keep it smooth and well-maintained. So whoever thought up this one clearly had long sessions in bed on the brain.

12. Have Your Corn Ground

Time Period: 1800 to 1810

This term — meant to represent a lady's sexual perspective — references the method where corn is ground by pounding it repeatedly with a stone. Sounds less than satisfying, but hey, what do I know?

13. Make Butter With One's Tail

Time Period: 1590s

To make or churn butter involves a lot of vigorous, circular movements. And if you're moving your buttocks (or tail) in circles, it probably means you're having a good time in bed.

14. Play Itch-Buttocks

Time Period: Late 1700s

No, this isn't actually a reference to STDs — it's just another reference to playing a game of the era. Trying to itch each other's buttocks doesn't sound particularly sexually alluring, though.

15. Grope For Trout In A Peculiar River

Time Period: Early 1600s

This term originated in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure, and is one of the best/most ridiculous terms for fingering that I think I've ever heard in my life.

16. Pierce The Hogshead

Time Period: Early 1600s

A hogshead wasn't actually a pig's head, but a measure of wine or liquor — quite a huge amount, actually. You broke into it by piercing the side with a knife to drink from it. Hello, phallic symbolism!

17. Take A Turn At Bushy Park

Time Period: 1800s

Bushy Park is a real park in London, and this euphemism probably sprang up amongst the men who went there to solicit prostitutes or have illicit liaisons.

18. The Culbatizing Exercise

Time Period: 1500s

This literally means "the exercise of putting something upon a tail" (or cul), and shows up in, amongst other places, the filthy 16th-century classic Gargantua and Pantagruel by Rabelais.

19. St. George

Time Period: 1800s

This one is actually a term for what we'd now call the "cowgirl" position. St. George supposedly rode a dragon, meaning that this term refers to girl on top, all the way.

20. Put Four Quarters On The Spit

Time Period: Late 1800s

This doesn't mean "quarters" as in coins. Here, quarters means parts of the body, and the spit was the rotating stick used to roast them over fires. Guess who owns the "spit" here?

21. Feed The Dumb Glutton

Time Period: 1700s

Gluttony was one of the seven sins, so this term is actually a fairly damning 18th-century euphemism for the vagina. Though at least the alleged glutton gets something out of the equation, I suppose.

22. Haul Someone's Ashes

Time Period: 1900 to 1920

This was from the early 20th century, and, bizarrely, could mean either beating somebody up or having sex with them. "Ashes" was probably used as a euphemism for buttocks.

23. Make Whoopee

Time Period: 1920s

This charming term from the '20s is now a famous jazz standard sung by the likes of Ray Charles — but there's no question that this phrase means getting dirty, not just having fun.

24. Wind Somebody's Little Ball Of Yarn

Time Period: 1800s

This utterly confusing phrase, which originated in Ireland and Scotland in the 19th century, actually has its own song, too — a folk song from Scotland, in which young men are advised that winding maids' "balls of yarn" will cost them.

25. Take A Turn Among The Cabbages

Time Period: 1700s

This 18th-century euphemism probably isn't where the idea of babies turning up in cabbage patches originated — but it's a nice thought.

26. Horizontal Refreshment

Time Period: 1860s

This gives the pleasing impression of breaking for a mid-coital ice cream. And is about the only one of these terms you could use to propose sex to a person in this day and age without getting punched in the face.

Images: Michael Dunn/Flickr, Giphy (26)