Dec 032013
 

Continuing with the “Peckers dildos and peccadilloes” theme:

 

What is a merkin? Is it

a) a slang term for an American?

b) a lure used in fly fishing?

or    c) a pubic hair wig?

Answer: All of the above.

LBJApparently it started to be used to describe an American after LBJ, then President of the USA, referred to his fellow countrymen in his Texas drawl as what sounded like “merkin people.” It caught on, especially now on the internet.

aa14The second meaning is clearly derived from the third one – the fishing lure vaguely resembles a patch of  alluring (?) hair. Which leads us on to the original meaning of the word, one which the Oxford English Dictionary dates back to 1614. Nowadays, in a world of “landing strips” and “Brazilians” it may seem odd that anyone uses a merkin, but au contraire, I am assured that there is a market for these hair pieces – either with showgirls wanting to cover their modesty, or with film actresses wanting to evade the censor when it comes to “no full nudity.” aa15Indeed I came across a curious advertisement for “The Kitty carpet” which extols the advantages of “a soft, adhesive merkin that fits over your pubic area to supply you with pubic hair when you need it most.” It gushes:

“Going to the beach with your grandmother? Dating an Amish guy? Filming a nude scene in a 1920’s period piece? The Kitty Carpet can give back a piece of what nature intended you to have. Or maybe your carpet just doesn’t match the drapes. That’s one of the reasons the Kitty Carpet is available in Black, Blonde and Pink….Cover your lady bits with a Kitty Carpet in any situation where you don’t want to show the full monty.”

The Oxford Companion To The Body traces the merkin back to 1450, and gives an account of a gentleman who came into possession of a prostitute’s merkin, washed and dried it, gave it a good brush, and then presented it to a cardinal, telling him he had brought him St Peter’s beard….

It’s a rather nice furry little word. Almost onomatopoeic. But, what has it got to do with life in the Georgian period? Because three hundred years ago merkins were not uncommon. They weren’t made out of nylon, they weren‘t a garish pink colour – indeed they were most likely to have been made from a mouse skin which had been dried and “cut to fit”. For what purpose? Well, taking my inspiration from the fulsome enthusiasm of Kitty Carpet:

“Are you a hooker who wants to hide those syphilitic sores? Are you scared that your next customer might lose interest in you when he sees that you have had to shave ‘down there’? Going bald – or wanting to hide the fact that those itching lice have given you the crabs so bad that you shaved your pubic area? Face the world with new confidence – wear a Mikey’s Merkin. Available from our shop at the Sign of the Cross in St James’s Street.”

No, definitely NOT a merkin! In fact a  red fox fur Dress Sporran from Kinloch Anderson

No, definitely NOT a merkin! In fact a red fox fur Dress Sporran from Kinloch Anderson

Remember, this was in the days when shaving body hair was not for nice girls. But body lice were prevalent in an age before personal hygiene came top of the list, and when washing, whether of your clothes or of your body, could be infrequent. Shaving was the best way of reducing the itch – but it did mean you risked comparison with the other class of shavers – the prostitutes. As venereal disease caught hold they would shave to enable the sores to be treated, and then cover their private parts with a dainty piece of mouse-hide so as not to frighten the punters. And no, I am not sure what they used to attach the mouse skin. Nowadays they are either woven on to a mesh and stuck on with spirit gum, or attached to a transparent G-string. It would be nice to think that the Georgians made theirs out of beaver hide (as in “Nice beaver”) but I have found no record to support that hypothesis…

Apparently it was also popular as a way of warning off a woman who was having an affair with your husband. Knit her a merkin and give it to her (a sign that you know that she is lousy and needs a wig down there). Better still, tell her that your husband ‘says to make sure that you wear it next time’ – meaning that your husband suspects that she has the pox, and that you know that she is no better than a common strumpet.

This theme was followed up in a ballad popularised in the 17th Century, which told the tale of a virtuous woman who is picked upon by her sluttish neighbours. They decided to humiliate her for her decency by making dildos and planting them upright in flower pots and then lobbed them over her garden wall. And then they knitted merkins and sent them to her – in other words implying that she was no more virtuous than they were.

aa19

The details appear courtesy of the English Broadside Ballad Archive, and in case your eyesight is as poor as mine, it includes this passage:

“Some that were void of grace and shame,

Merkins and Dildoes made,

And threw them o’re their neighbors wall,

this was a hopeful Trade.

A Person of great worth and fame,

whose Vertues well were known,

These Sluts were minded to defame,

as plainly shall be shown”

 

So, there you have it – no smirkin’ at my merkin! Wear yours with pride – Gay Pride if you prefer the rainbow look…

 Rainbow_01 (Shown courtesy of Ed Shepp).

  3 Responses to “In bad taste Pt 2: Who’s been lurkin’ near your merkin?”

  1.  

    In Dr Strangelove the US president is, ahem, called Merkin Muffley.

  2.  

    Fascinating!

  3.  

    […] (Regular readers of my blog will know that the same poor mouse was also used to provide pubic hairpieces called merkins, link here). […]

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