Philology Phriday––Kinky

13 Aug

I’ve been noticing lately just how much kink is in these days. Almost everywhere you turn, and by this I mean any website or tv channel you go to, kink abounds. Lady Gaga? Kink. She’s a kinky little minx who has sold billions and billions of albums by dressing down (even too far down for a casual philology phriday) in leather thongs studded with rhinestones and wielding a trusty horsewhip. These are the kinds of images a word like kink connotes. Kinky, thus, means something like a sexual fixation on something that is not normal. Don’t worry, I won’t wax philosophic or poetic on what “normal sex” could even possibly mean. But in case I do, the safety word is peuptypants.

But where does this idea of perversion come from? Kink, the root from which we get the adjective kinky, is found in a lot of old European languages. There’s the Dutch “kink” and the German “kinke”. Even Swedish and Icelandic have a kink-esque word––the Icelandic “kikna” meant, strangely enough, to bend at the knees.

In the first uses of the word in English, the word kink was a largely nautical term:

“(n) a short twist or curl in rope, thread, hair, or wire, at which it is bent upon itself; esp. when stiff so as to catch or cause obstruction.”

(This, it turns out, is also the same sense that came from the early use of the word “crick”.)

Further in the word’s evolution it meant a general bend in a line or deviation from a normal curve. This is the germ that leads to the early 19th century association of kink with mental irregularity. Thomas Jefferson uses the phrase “kink in their heads” in a letter dated back in 1803. This link to the brain only needs a Freudian-obsessive society to kick it in the direction of psycho-sexual divergence. T.S. Eliot in “Encounter” (1950) shows how far the word has become fetishized: “Hates kissing. Undertakes most kinks…but no buggery.” So, the association between kinkiness and sexual perversion is a fairly new thing, around 60 years old, which in the philological world is the blink of an eye.

But if we look at where the word’s use started, we have to see that some of its underlying meaning has stuck with it, like, well, handcuffs. That idea of bending upon itself is clearly visible in the way we think of kinky behavior. It is at first a bend, a diversion from the norm, and at second a bend toward oneself, a bend for the self. Kink is a perversion for one’s own sexual satisfaction. The obstructive idea within a kink is, of course, what causes this sense of pleasure. The handcuffs, the paddles, the tight leather unmentionables, the whips––these are all obstructions. No one walks around in tight leather because it makes them feel free and the same is with handcuffs. The nautical kink is a great metaphor for the kinda kink Gaga’s into.

But then, of course, kink is always associated with a fault––hence it’s early interchangeability with “crick”. I know I said I wouldn’t wax anything on actual sex, but what can I say? I’m into wax. The idea of an obstruction is of course nothing new to me. I’m a humongous fan of the idea that obstructions are in fact an important part of what make an experience meaningful. Why is it so wrong that the same principle be applied in the bedroom or mock-dungeon? And who’s to say that “normal” sex is obstructionless? What with all the hormonal imbalances and sometimes uncontrollable bodily functions, not to mention the seemingly unhealthy mental states deep sexual attractions catalyze, it seems that all sex is kinky.

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