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Dr. Alexander Kohut in Arukh Completum (vol. 2 p. 314) claims that the Latin word hortus (and its Greek etymon), which means "garden" also refers to a woman's private parts (I'm assuming the vagina). The context in which he says this is rabbinic exegesis which explains the Hebrew word "garden" as referring to a woman. Kohut has been known to sometimes make things up, but other times he's right on the mark. So I was wondering if my colleagues here can either confirm or deny Kohut's claim.

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    As an aside, κῆπος is in no sense the etymon of hortus. Greek has a cognate of Latin hortus in χόρτος 'feeding place; fodder' (which is not used for the pudenda muliebria), but not an etymon; the Latin is not derived from the Greek.
    – Cairnarvon
    Sep 7, 2023 at 17:43
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    These kinds of metaphors are quite common even in folklore songs in modern langauges. In Czech and Moravian folklore songs a garden can often mean the female crotch area or female virginity. Often young ladies protect their gardens, sometimes there is a flower inside that must not be picked by anyone. But often enough only the garden is mentioned. Sep 8, 2023 at 12:30
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    @VladimirFГероямслава "lady garden" is a somewhat twee euphemism not infrequently made fun of in English-language comedy today
    – Tristan
    Sep 8, 2023 at 14:21
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    @Tristan It's mentioned in the linked text (fourth line of the left column).
    – Cairnarvon
    Sep 8, 2023 at 14:28
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    "My garden has not been plowed of late."
    – Deipatrous
    Sep 8, 2023 at 16:13

2 Answers 2

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This information is a bit difficult to find in the classic dictionaries, because they tend to be quite squeamish about explaining sexual things! But here's what Lewis and Short have to say about it.

IIC: Like the Gr. κῆπος, i.q. pudendum muliebre, Poët. ap. Anth. Lat. I. p. 686 Burm.; also the posteriors of a boy, Auct. Priap. 5.

Pudendum muliebre is Latin for "that womanly thing you should be ashamed about", i.e. the genitals. So it seems that, indeed, both Latin hortus and Greek κῆπος can be used as euphemisms for the vagina. LSJ confirm this for κῆπος, which they define as "III. pudenda muliebria, D.L.2.116." (Pudenda muliebria is just the plural of pudendum muliebre.)

Lewis and Short say that it can also be used for a man's anus in a sexual sense, presumably transferred from the "vagina" meaning, but LSJ don't mention that for Greek, so that may be a metaphor that was only used in Latin (or maybe it was also used in Greek, just not often enough for LSJ to list it).

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    Is the answer yes or no? Sep 8, 2023 at 14:35
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    @user1271772 does it need to be one or the other? Which it should be depends on where you draw the line between ad-hoc euphemistic metaphor and established sense, which different people can disagree with. Providing all the facts, as this answer does allows the reader to make that judgement themselves which is much more useful than a yes or no would be
    – Tristan
    Sep 8, 2023 at 14:48
  • @Tristan I disagree with you. While this answer is better than the other one, because it says what Pudendum muliebre means, it does not make the answer to the question clear. Sep 8, 2023 at 15:03
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    @user1271772 The answer is yes: "both Latin hortus and Greek κῆπος can be used as euphemisms for the vagina".
    – Draconis
    Sep 8, 2023 at 16:45
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    @user1271772 Did you actually read the answer? It says quite plainly that the answer is yes. Answers don’t have to have a huge, bold ‘yes’ or ‘no’ at the top to be adequate answers to a question. Sep 9, 2023 at 1:59
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Yes, it has been used in this way, and no, Kohut is not making it up. Lewis and Short mention the relevant passages:

C. Like the Gr. κῆπος, i. q. pudendum muliebre, Poët. ap. Anth. Lat. I. p. 686 Burm.; also the posteriors of a boy, Auct. Priap. 5.

You can probably guess which anatomical part is meant here. These 19th century dictionaries were often a bit shy, so they put vulgar sexual terms in Latin instead of English.

All the attestations, both in Latin here and in Greek, so there's no saying when this metaphor developed, but it's probably only that, a metaphor and naught more. Similarly, Aristophanes uses πεδίον as a metaphor for "the pudenda muliebre". There's nothing stopping writers from making those sort of metaphors, though that doesn't mean every writer would immediately make the connection, or that it exists in any and every passage.

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    Nathan Bailey, An Universal Etymological English Dictionary, 8th ed. London 1737, p. 18 " HORTUS [by some Writers] the privy Parts of a Woman. " Also, in Shakespeare's Sonnet 16 one finds: " Now stand you on the top of happy hours, And many maiden gardens, yet unset, "
    – njuffa
    Sep 7, 2023 at 22:40
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    The dividing line between an established meaning and occasional metaphorical use is hard to draw even for current language. Take e.g. “My anaconda don’t want none unless you got buns, hun.” The euphemistic intent of anaconda is clear, but only as a metaphor in context; in itself, we’d usually think of anaconda as just meaning the actual large reptile. On the other hand the euphemistic sense of buns is well-established enough that we’d expect a good dictionary to list it. Shakespeare’s maiden gardens seems nearer the contextual-only end of this spectrum; where does hortus fall? Sep 7, 2023 at 23:43
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    @user1271772 does it need to be one or the other? Which it should be depends on where you draw the line between ad-hoc euphemistic metaphor and established sense, which different people can disagree with. Providing all the facts, as this answer does allows the reader to make that judgement themselves which is much more useful than a yes or no would be
    – Tristan
    Sep 8, 2023 at 14:48
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    @user1271772 I thought the answer was understood from context, but hopefully my edit made it clearer.
    – cmw
    Sep 8, 2023 at 15:08
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    @PeterLeFanuLumsdaine it is worth mentioning that there is a line in Plautus' Pseudolus where someone says: "When the soldier went on his watch at night and you went with him, did his sword fit in your scabbard?" and that is apparently the only evidence anywhere that the word vagina (scabbard) had a sexual meaning in pre-medieval Latin (and even then, the person this is addressed to appears to be male). Sep 8, 2023 at 18:33

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