Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Etymology of the Day

Warning: contains anatomical references.

Those who've denied the insidious creep of genital membranes into modern religion should take heed. The hymen (yes, that mucous membrane business) shares an etymology with the hymn (as in, "All things bright and beautiful"), and, frankly, creatures great and small are shocked.

It begins with Hymenaeos, the Greco-Roman (wrestler, perhaps?) God of Mawidge. Marriage, though concerned, of course, with the mutual procuration of stainless steel espresso machines, the dividing of supermarket dairy cabinet prefabricated dessert two-packs, and the canoodling of toothbrushes next to the bathroom sink, is also widely associated with, for better or worse, (quiet please) sex. I cannot comment on the extent to which this association is grounded in statistical realities, not having read the Kinsley Report, but there's no denying, in the popular imagination, sex and marriage go together like a horse and carriage. Likewise, I'll withhold any analysis of why it is part of a gel's genitalia, and not, say, the outermost follicle of the greater dangling left bollock, that is named after ye God of Marriage, but I'm sure you can work it out yerselves. Insert pertinent feminist inflections to taste.

Meanwhile, old Hymenaeos, being the God of Marriage and all, is the object of wedding songs Greek and Latin. They traditionally go something like "Io, io, Hymen, Hymenaee! Io, io!" (here's where a good lyricist comes in handy) and they're known as hymens. The hymens are sacred songs, and so hymen gradually comes to designate sacred songs of any stripe, and somewhere loses a vowel and becomes "hymn". QED.

(This post brought to you with the invaluable assistance of the Oxford English Dictionary, my bedfellow of preference.)

14 comments:

Martin Kingsley said...

Yew should have been, like, a professor or summat.

alexis said...

Cheers, Kingsley. I will apply for promotion forthwith (in a couple of decades, assuming I haven't hightailed it away from academia and sought refuge in the far more remunerative fields of floristry and/or lawnmowing).

Martin Kingsley said...

[snort] You're going to be headhunted away from the ironically grassy plains and plateaus of Il Trobo by the shady and hirsute representatives of Jim's Mowing? Oh, how my corpulence shakes as it bears the brunt of my all-encompassing mirth!

alexis said...

It runs in the family. My brother's a dab-hand with a whipper-snipper.

TimT said...

Wedding songs with the word 'hymen' in it, as performed by various artists

Harry's Heavy Heavy Metal Band (So Heavy that it's Heavier than a Lead Banana)

Io! Io! Hymen!
Io! Io! Screw you!
Yeargh!
Yeargh!
Yeargh!
I'm going to come after you with a battle axe!
Io! Io! Hymen!


The Rex Humbard Ministries

May your marriage be morally pure!
May your marriage be virginal and chaste!
May your marriage have nothing to do with that horrible word 'Hymen'
Don't let your soul go to waste!

Io! Io! Jesus!
Io! Io! Jesus!
Io! Io! Virginity pleases!
Io! Io! Jesus!


Jovial Jerry's Jovial Germans

Ich liebst du!
Du liebst mir!
Sex ist wunderbar!
So denkst mir!

Io! Io! Hymen!
Io! Io! Hymen!
Io! Io! Hymen!
Und so weiter.

Danke alle fur horst meine kleine sang!


The Happy Kiddies Happy Band

Sunshine, lollypops and
Rainbows, happiness and
We're together
Here forever -

Io! Io! Hymen!...
(etc)

Operatic solo

I-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i...
O-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o...
Hyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyymeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeen!


Bill Gates Collective Orchestra of IBM soloists

1010101010101010101010
00010101000101010001010
001001010100100101110101
110101001010111001111110
H Y M E N.

TimT said...

A medley version is also available. Out in all bad CD stores now!

Martin Kingsley said...

That's not even proper binary code! Bloody hell, some people...

TimT said...

Please direct all complaints to the Rex Humbard Ministries, Cuyahonga Falls, Ohio, not forgetting to enclose a stamped, ready-to-seal envelope along with your home address, phone number, and credit card details, and soul.

alexis said...

Have you thought about going into business, Tim? There's big money in weddings, I hear. I'm sure lots o' young couples would be up for commissioning a personalised bridal song or three.

TimT said...

Like all good capitalists, you've got to be where the business is, and I hear the market in souls is really experiencing an upturn at the moment!

So between wedding songs, souls, or environmentally friendly energy, I just don't know where to place my money...

eyrie said...

I feel very embarrassed to confess that I was distracted away from all that sex and anatomy by one most pressing question:

Is that the complete OED, the two-volume Shorter OED or one of those single volume numbers?

(Whispering behind hand: I had a friend download the complete OED onto my laptop so it fits quite snugly beside me in bed and, what's more, even keeps me warm!)

alexis said...

You and I both know, Eyrie, that these are the questions that matter. I was assisted in this instance by the electronic edition, which is bookmarked on my web browser, but the 'rents gave me the two volumes for Christmas in 1994. I distinctly remember my father telling me to guard them with my life; ever since I've been a bit neurotic about them (white gloves, no liquids, etc).

eyrie said...

Ah, a teenager getting the OED for Christmas! How well we would have got along!

alexis said...

Oh, that's nice. Yes, I'm sure we would've.