5

In English and Finnish (and probably most languages) there are different verbs for urination to be used under different circumstances:

  • clinical: urinate, mictuate; virtsata
  • childish: pee, wee; pissata
  • various levels of vulgarity: piss, take a leak; kusta

There also many other aspects, like euphemisms and the level of formality, and the list above is not supposed to be exhaustive. I realized that my Latin vocabulary is lacking in this respect; I didn't know any verb without consulting a dictionary (I found mingere and meiere), and I have no idea what others there might be and what their nuances are.

What classical Latin verbs are there for urination, and how would you describe their nuance or register?

  • I'm not sure if I should ask for different registers separately or have a single big list question like this. Ideas are welcome. – Joonas Ilmavirta Jan 8 '18 at 21:19
  • I know that J.N. Adams, The Latin sexual vocabulary, has a whole section about urination/urine and the various terms. – cnread Jan 8 '18 at 22:01
  • @cnread I never thought that would be covered there. It's certainly worth looking into here. – Joonas Ilmavirta Jan 8 '18 at 22:19
  • Yes, I only knew about it because I happened to be looking up something in the index not too long ago and saw the 'urination' entry. As I recall from my quick glance, it makes sense because some of the words for urination were also used for ejaculation. I'll pull out my copy later and compile a summary in the form of an answer, unless someone else has a chance to do it before me. – cnread Jan 8 '18 at 22:23
8

I would class the following as reasonably innocuous in tone but only because of the works they appear in. That is to say, there is no reason for their authors to be scurrilous or vulgar.

  • lotium facere, see Cato, On Agriculture, CXXVII
  • lotium ire, see Cato, On Ag., CLVI
  • urinam facere, see Pliny, Natural History, XXVIII.LX; also Columella, On Agriculture, VI.XXX
  • urinam reddere, see Pliny, Nat. Hist., XX.XXIII & VIII.LXVI & VIII.LVI; Celsus, On Medicine, 2.14
  • cupiditas urinae, in Celsus, On Med., 2.12
  • urinam fundere, in Pliny, Nat. Hist., XXIV.CXI (but note that this is describing dogs)
  • exinanita urina, in Pliny, VIII.LVI (used of hedgehogs)

exonerata vesica occurs in the Satyricon (27) and Macrobius has ire minctum in the Saturnalia (3), both of which sound reasonably benign to me but the authors make me think we should tread with caution.

In truth, it's difficult to clearly define register and tone, possibly because the register was narrower and/or more flexible than our own. Lotium is a case in point. When Cato uses it in On Agriculture, it seems quite straightforward and polite. It sounds less polite when Catullus uses it to describe a Spaniard brushing his teeth with it (XXXIX.21). It sounds positively vulgar when Petronius uses it to describe someone who non valet lotium suum (Satyricon, 57).

Similarly with both mingere and meiere. Although they occur across a broad spectrum of genres and authors they are, nevertheless, used liberally by authors of invective and satire, such as Catullus, Juvenal, and especially Martial. Indeed, Martial's use of meiere seems deliberately to play on the ambiguity of its meanings (to ejaculate and to urinate); 46.2, for example, is often translated "to pee" (or similar) but is open for interpretation. Either way, it's horrendously obscene.

On the other hand, Catullus uses meiere in XCVII to reference a female mule and so can only mean urinating rather than ejaculating. But, in the context of the poem, Catullus probably means something more like "pissing". All of which is to say that meiere, in the hands of some authors at least, is clearly meant to be offensive in the extreme.

6

Since @cnread hasn't gotten around to it yet, I will make my own reply based on J.N. Adams' The Latin Sexual Vocabury (where urination is treated in an appendix rather than in the main text).

  • Adams regards meiere and mingere as "not easy to separate in Republican and early Imperial times", although mingere appears somewhat later and may be a back-formation made on the basis of the perfect of meiere.

  • Late Latin developed a 1st conjugation meiare, possibly modelled on cacare.

  • Although meiere developed a side usage as a word for "ejaculate", mingere did not, and was not an outright obscenity. It seems to have been in a higher plane than the more vulgar meiere.

  • Lotium seems to have developed as a euphemism for "urine", based on its use in washing clothes.

  • By the end of the Republic, urina developed as a more polite word for "urine", perhaps because it was associated with οὖρον.

1

For some reason my computer isn't allowing me to add comments, so I can't add a comment to either answer here, which is what feels more appropriate than a separate answer (a moderator should feel free to turn this into a comment), but I'd like to throw in vesīcam levāre, from Pliny the Younger's Dē Medicīnā ("vesīcam levāre ūrīnā largiōre").

  • This makes sense as an answer to me. The only thing I'm missing is a discussion of nuance or register. Do you have any ideas on what kind of urination/peeing/other this might mean? The tone or formality of the context would be a useful hint, for example. (To have anyone's answer turned into a comment to either the question or another answer, you can flag for moderation attention and tell what you want.) – Joonas Ilmavirta Jan 27 '18 at 8:10

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