Etymology Linguistics

Junk mail and male junk

Q: I was listening to a discussion on talk radio about the use of the word “junk” in reference to the male genitalia. Some people were saying it goes back to the ’60s. Do you have a take on this? The subject was inspired, of course, by the TSA’s body scans and pat-downs.

A: The use of “junk” as a slang term for the male genitalia is a fairly recent development, as these things go.

It’s probably been around for only about  20 years, according to discussions on the mailing list of the American Dialect Society, which is composed largely of linguists and lexicographers.

Jonathon Green writes in Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang that “junk” was first used to mean the male genitals during the 1990s on American college campuses.

The sports blog Deadspin has used it lately in a lot of posts, including one last month about Brett Favre.

Speaking of “junk,” the noun entered English around 1400, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.

The word has meant a lot of things over the years, including inferior rope, narcotics, and rubbish. (Inferior rope? Hmm.)

And it’s given us such noun phrases as “junk art,” “junk bond,” “junk food,” and “junk mail.”

We’d guess that the genital usage will be going viral now, thanks to the Transportation Security Administration, though the lexicographers at the OED Online haven’t lassoed it yet.

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