Saturday, January 1, 2011

Of Masturbating and Masticating


It will fascinate you to learn -- no really, it will fascinate you to learn this -- that the junior high snicker-word masticate appeared English around the year 1750, whereupon it took an aggressive uptick in use, peaking in the latter half of the nineteenth century, then falling steadily since. This is not to be regretted -- after all, it couldn't be snicker-word today if it had continued to increase in commonality.

What about the word that makes it a snicker-word? The googles tell the story:


English writers started reducing their use of masticate at about the same time they started increasing their use of masturbate, and at roughly the same rate (gauged by eyeballing the lines' slopes). The words achieved an instant of parity in, oh, 1925. When we think of 1925, we need to imagine that for the people of the time, the two words would have been equally familiar or, as the case may be, equally obscure. Strange days.

Now you know.

It's possible there are more interesting lines of inquiry that google's Books Ngram Viewer can illuminate, but I have an on-again, off-again relationship with interesting lines of inquiry.

1 comment:

Reuben said...

Ha! I still recall giving a presentation on the production of rubber in high school chemistry class, during which I was forced at one point to state something like, "and then the compound is subjected to a process known as mastication." Snickering did indeed abound, which, having anticipated, I took in stride, though in one of those ridiculous life-ly regrets of some minuscule event, I have always wished that I had played up the situation somehow. Maybe something like, "not to be confused with *masturbation* which as we all know is the process by which..." I speculate that snickering would have reached unprecedented proportions, and then I might have had an interesting response to make to your post.