Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I was looking up a definition online, as I often do, in this case the British slang word tuppence; I got the standard "a slang reference to a coin denomination" definition from Wikipedia, but stumbled on these interesting ones given at The Urban Dictionary:

tuppence

Olden day word for a little girls [vagina]. Was once also slang word for money in ye olde england.

Fanny wiped her tuppence with a dish rag. Tally Ho.


Another word for a females Vagina.

A man has a winkle and a woman has a tuppence.

On one hand, those are two presumably independent contributors giving the same definition. On the other hand, you often can't trust The Urban Dictionary on some types of words, especially ones that have sexual meanings, because it's titillating for some people to give outrageous sexual definitions.

Some my questions are: Are the definitions given by these two correct? If so, what's the thinking behind the term?

share|improve this question
7  
Never heard of it - but there are an awful lot of slang terms for a lady's bits! –  mgb May 18 '11 at 2:16
2  
Isn't this part of one of those mary poppins songs? o_O?! –  Garet Claborn May 18 '11 at 2:27
2  
@Garet - there is a song half-a-sixpence. Which would be a thruppeny-bit (ie 3pennies). Thruppeny-bits is also rhyming slang for mammaries –  mgb May 18 '11 at 3:08
2  
Tuppence isn't really slang as such (though perhaps it's a little informal) - it's just a phonetic spelling of twopence (which is pronounced the same). –  psmears May 18 '11 at 10:12
3  
Lovely, the "winkle" always reminds me of "Bernhard" aka Nursie from the Elizabethan Blackadder episodes: "God be praised, it's a miracle. A boy without a winkle!" (referring to the queen) :-D –  0xC0000022L May 23 '11 at 1:33

7 Answers 7

up vote 16 down vote accepted
+250

I don't know if you can call this answer "masterful," but here goes.

This article (entitled: "Snatch," "Hole," or "Honey-pot"? Semantic Categories and the Problem of Nonspecificity in Female Genital Slang.) is quite an extensive study on many, many statistical phenomena and anomalies when it comes to, as they call it, female genital slang. They also compare these slang Female Genitalia Terms (FGTs) by category to Male Genitalia Terms (MGTs).

This article is very extensive, so to highlight what they have to say about the term "tuppence" (which here falls under the "money" category):

FGTs contained both explicit (e.g., tuppence, thruppeny bit, Mrs Penny), and implicit (fur purse, pocket book) references to money. In most terms, the amount of money was very small, suggesting reference to money rather than to value. Many FGTs not coded with this category (e.g., fish, lettuce, quiff) have, historically, meant money (Wentworth &. Flexner, 1975), and many have simultaneously meant prostitute--Green's (1999) money category is identified as the money-maker. These terms suggest women's worth and value to be in their genitalia, and commodify the genitalia as objects to be purchased. Indeed, commodity was a sixteenth century British term, now obsolete, for the genital area (McConville & Shearlaw, 1984).

Thus, as @Garet Claborn intimated, this term seems to derive from referring to prostitutes, specifically cheap ones, and as they say points to women's worth (at least the opinion of the times) being in their genitalia.

With reference to your mention of whether or not this word enjoys usage, as you say a quick Google search will yield a number of hits connecting the word "tuppence" to a female genitalia reference. As for how widespread it is, a discussion on this forum suggests that it's not a very widespread and widely known word, one user saying the following:

I'm guessing that as Mummy, Walt Disney, Agatha Christie and my other half (parents from West London, raised in various locations across Europe) and the Online Oxford English Dictionary do not know the "front bottom" meaning [referring to tuppence], its geographical spread is limited.

Hope this answers your question.

share|improve this answer
    
Nice bit of research! –  user1579 May 25 '11 at 15:33

As a child I referred to my bits as my tuppence and my brothers bit's were his willy. My parents are in their late 50s today so it's not an "old persons' phrase" — however it's not a phrase I've chosen to continue with my own daughters!

share|improve this answer

My elders use the word tuppence and so do most of the people in the town where I live. (Mansfield in Nottinghamshire). It's used mostly when talking to young children. A bit more polite than fanny that is used when they get a bit older. My parents used the word willy in ref to a penis and this always embarrassed me as it's such a twatish word. Most people use the word tail in ref to a penis here too. "Ay up mam, me tail's standin' up!" is what I once exclaimed as a small boy when walking around a seaside town... Nice.

share|improve this answer

My mother, who, had she been alive today, would be over a hundred years of age, used the expression, "lost your tuppence" in the sense of a woman losing her virginity. And here in Derby, the phrase was certainly used by some of my mothers generation, mainly the women if I remember right, on an occasional basis and with some mirth. However, I have not heard the expression for many years now.

share|improve this answer

I think tuppence falls into that special subclass of euphemism where it's all but meaningless to look for the etymology.

Parents often promote these words because they don't want to teach their children known vulgar terms as used by adults. They only expect the chosen term to be used within the family (and maybe with the family doctor).

Many parents get embarrassed if their children bandy such words about in company, but this 'prissiness' is somewhat alleviated if the word is manifestly childish (so winkie is better than John Thomas), or sounds like part of the family's private vocabulary (Aunt Judy is better than Front bottom).

I'm sure any family doctor will have come across a vast number of words dealing with private parts, bodily functions, etc. Many of which will be peculiar to one or a small number of families.

There aren't many 'definitely childish' words for vagina with general currency. Possibly because there's nothing much to see - and therefore less need to refer to it than to a penis. In the absence of a handy childish term, parents often just coin their own words, or use one they think most other adults won't be familiar with.

If more teenagers and adults start using tuppence amongst themselves, I'd expect less parents to use it with their children. They actually want oddball meaningless terms with no known etymology.

I'm not inclined to believe tuppence derives from the price of a cheap whore's charms in the first place, but if that were true and became common knowledge I'm sure most parents would avoid it like the plague.

share|improve this answer
3  
I agree with most of your remarks but I beg to disagree about the "meaningless" part. I find it thrilling to discover etymologies of such idiosyncratic expressions. I suspect some nearly lost nursery rhyme is behind that one and I actually did not know about the meaning of vagina/vulva for tuppence before Billare's question. That makes this word more interesting and I just noticed it twice today (in the standard meaning to "two penny" (old phrase) though). I would consider reviving the etymology of the vagina meaning as yet another nice achievement of EL&U. +1 ;-) –  Alain Pannetier Φ May 22 '11 at 22:27
    
@Alain Pannetier: Well I'd be astonished if the tuppence in question really does have any connection with the price of getting into one when your little princess grows up to be a cheap whore. But we are put on this earth to marvel, so bring it on! –  FumbleFingers May 22 '11 at 23:19
1  
I must just add that to put your tuppence in (or more often tuppence-worth) is a fairly common expression meaning to voice your opinion in a discussion involving more than one other person contributing views. That usage couldn't survive if the childish one became particularly widespread. –  FumbleFingers May 22 '11 at 23:41
    
That's debatable: so many children are christened Dick, Willy or Mary although these first names are well known synonyms of genitalia commonly used in children speak. –  Alain Pannetier Φ May 22 '11 at 23:53
1  
@Mynamite: I don't know if most Brits know that "tuppence" is/was sometimes used as a (child's/childish) euphemism, but since this question came up I've asked several people, and they all do (except one who said it should be thruppence). But in every written instance of "in her tuppence" it means "opinion", not "vagina", so it's reasonable to assume that's even more well-known. Who knows? Perhaps OP's sense came from it (as "trivial thing"). I certainly don't buy that "cheap whore" etymology though. –  FumbleFingers Jan 24 '13 at 23:54

Anecdotally I can say that it's correct, since it's how my mother used to refer to mine when I was very small ;) I think in general it's used with small children because it's a "polite"/neutral word, and if the child uses it in company, or at school or whatever, they're not going to get into trouble because of it.

share|improve this answer
10  
+1 for personal bravado lol –  Garet Claborn May 18 '11 at 14:54

Two pence used to be enough to buy yourself a nice meal once upon a time, and apparently more than that. From the bit of research I could dig up, this seems to be a slang which was born out of cheap prostitutes.

For some reason basic search results seem to suggest this has over time turned into a term used for children. Perhaps the effect of euphemising through 'old timey' phrases.

There's not a great wealth of information out there on it, but it is plain to see that British folks have heard the phrase coined that way.

...interesting.

And thanks Martin, for that clarification which spawned my research lol. Aren't you so proud?

share|improve this answer
1  
I was going to suggest prostitution as an origin, mainly because in the endnotes of From Hell, Alan Moore cites "three-penny upright" as 19th century London slang for either "prostitute" or um, what prostitutes do when they are upright in an alleyway with their John. But I didn't have a chance to look it up last night. –  KitFox May 18 '11 at 11:44
3  
My my, look at that inflation go! –  Garet Claborn May 18 '11 at 14:52
    
I wouldn't know :p –  trideceth12 May 20 '11 at 12:25
    
@Trideceth: From two to three cents, woo.. 50% increase in profits ;p –  Garet Claborn May 20 '11 at 17:28
    
@Kit, That explains a pun in Terry Pratchett's Night Watch. (Terry Pratchett is frighteningly well-read and genre-savvy.) –  TRiG Jul 26 '11 at 0:29

protected by RegDwigнt Jan 24 '13 at 19:24

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.