I'm sure most of you have heard "necking" to mean kissing with passion; however, before "necking" the popular word among American youth was "petting". From Flappers to Rappers: The Study of American Youth Slang by Dr. Thomas Dalzell states that by the middle of the 1920s folks overwhelmingly were using the word necking instead of petting. The book doesn't state when petting was first used. Nevertheless, I'm most interested as to why folks used petting and necking to describe one who is kissing with passion. Any thoughts?
The verb 'neck' meaning "to kiss, embrace, caress" is first recorded 1825 (implied in necking) in northern England dial., from the noun.
I would imagine the implication is that the activity took place from the neck upwards.
The sense of 'petting' meaning "to stroke" is first found 1818. Slang sense of "kiss and caress" is from 1920 (implied in petting, in F. Scott Fitzgerald).
The common-sense trajectory seems to be the use of the word in relation to domestic animals, then children, then adults affectionately, then romantically.
See 'petting parties' here.
All very tame compared to bussing, it would seem. :)
I am by no means an expert. However, I do observe and like to make a hypothesis based on the observations. I think it may be possible that the term "necking" may have come the observed actions of many birds' mating rituals. The observation that I made was the mating ritual of the common dove. I noticed that two doves that are established mates occasionally go through an intricate dance that seemed to terminate with both birds pecking and grooming each others neck. Just a thought from a common man.
Here is the actual sentence from the "College Slang" sidebar in chapter 2 ("The 1920s: The Flapper") of Tom Dalzell, Flappers 2 Rappers: American Youth Slang (1996) in which necking and petting are discussed:
In the book's glossary of 1920s slang, Dalzell includes this entry for necker:
And this one for petting pantry:
Dalzell revisits necking and petting in chapter 4 ("The 1940s: The Jive Generation"), though with very little explanation of what it meant:
I have detailed elsewhere at some length my unsuccessful attempts to corroborate another of Dalzell's assertions about 1920s slang—namely, that grungy meant "envious"—and in a comment above, FumbleFingers alludes to another dubious claim about 1920s slang in the same work: that pine feathers period referred to "The period in a Flapper's life when she blossoms out."
It is certainly possible that some young people in the 1920s used petting in the narrow sense of "kissing passionately" (perhaps further distinguished by the girl's having her arms around the boy's neck), but I wouldn't reach that conclusion on the strength of Dalzell's assertions alone. I also recommend being extremely cautious about using contemporary online sources to corroborate Dalzell, since many such sources base their information on Flappers 2 Rappers, and therefore do not provide independent confirmation of its conclusions.
Fortunately, unlike Dalzell, we have the authoritative insight of Time magazine to set us straight. From Time (January 17, 1927) [combined snippets]:
Writing for the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America, Sidney Weston, Young People's Relationships (1931) [combined snippets] also offers a much more nuanced account of the different possible meanings of petting at the end of flapper era than Dalzell does 65 years later:
It thus appears that during the 1920s and shortly thereafter, petting was understood not to be exclusively (or indeed primarily) a matter of kissing—but activities along a continuum ranging from touching to embracing to fondling to pawing to groping—with kissing included for good measure.
Presumably petting arose from the term for gently touching a pet animal. Necking, meanwhile, is associated in discussions from 1922 and 1923 with the phenomenon of dancing cheek to cheek (and hence neck to neck). Here is the relevant portion of J.E. Lighter, The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang (1994) for the verb neck:
This last-cited reference from 1925 may be the source of Dalzell's information that "necking" replaced "petting" as a standard slang term during the 1920s, though where Dalzell got the idea that it was confined to kissing I have no idea.