Tag Archives: John Ciardi

About Condoms

Because this blog is about the English language, just about any topic can be adapted to fit. Today we shall speak of condoms. My reference book is A Browser’s Dictionary (and Native’s Guide to the Unknown American Language), compiled by John Ciardi.

Ciardi states that “the first to deal with this word was Capt. Francis Grose in his A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, London, 1785.” Here is Grose’s definition:

Cundum. The dried gut of a sheep, worn by men in the act of coition, to prevent venereal infection; said to have been invented by one Colonel Cundum. These machines were long prepared and sold by a matron of the name Phillips at the Green Canister, in Half-moon St., in the Strand. That good lady having acquired a fortune, retired from business, but learning that the town was not well served by her successor, she, out of a patriotic zeal for the public welfare, returned to her occupation, of which she gave notice by divers hand-bills in circulation in the year 1776.

Ciardi then notes, “What Grose is really saying is that the old bag sold her business and then set up competitive shop again, ruining the poor fool to whom she had sold out.”

My note: I’m not sure what Grose meant by “machines,” and I find it interesting that he considered condoms useful for preventing STDs but said nothing about their contraceptive function.

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It’s Magic!

© Judi Birnberg

Illusionists and magicians often exclaim, “Abracadabra!” as they perform their tricks. In earlier eras, the word served as a magic incantation to ward off evil spirits and aid in healing.

According to John Ciardi in A Browser’s Dictionary, the word was often written over and over on parchment, which was then folded in the form of a cross or other geometric shape, hung on a string, and dangled around the necks of ailing people. They were instructed to wear the talisman for a specific period of time and perform certain magical rites to bring about the desired healing. Chances are those afflicted were instructed not to open the folded packet. If they complied with all the steps,—abracadabra!—they would be healed.

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