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: As far as we can tell, the use of “junk” as a slang term for the male genitalia was first recorded in the the early 1980s, and heard in speech before that.
The earliest example we’ve seen is from “The Hustler,” a short story by Ethan Mordden in the April 1983 issue of Christopher Street, a gay-oriented magazine published in New York City.
In a passage describing rough sex, a character says, “That’s when the top man lays you face down on your junk, and after he starts to punk you he turns you on your side and locks his arms around you so you can’t pull away.”
The linguist Ben Zimmer says in The New York Times Magazine ( Dec. 30, 2010) that Mordden, author of the story, told him “he borrowed this meaning of junk from a slang-slinging friend.”

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.

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.

In the Nov. 13, 2010, incident at San Diego Airport, John Tyner, a software engineer, refused a full-body scan.

During the alternative pat down, he told the screener, “If you touch my junk, I’m going to have you arrested.” Tyner captured the incident on his phone and posted the video online.

[Note: This post was updated on April 2, 2024.]

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