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The conversation took a turn towards Monty Python yesterday, and in particular the Life of Brian. This film featured as a character (Brian's putative father) the Roman soldier Nortonus Maximus, a name derived from norton, a slang word for penis.

I was naturally curious as to how a penis could come to be called a norton, but when I went to look it up I was surprised to find the word doesn't appear in Farmer & Henley, nor in Partridge, nor in Green. It isn't even in Urban Dictionary, and I can't find this definition anywhere online. But I can distinctly remember using the word before the Life of Brian was released, and the scriptwriter clearly expected the joke to be understood by the audience.

So, does anyone know the etymology of this word? And does anyone know why it seems to have been overlooked in the standard references?

  • I have never heard ‘norton’ used as a slang term for a penis, but I would assume that (just like ‘dick’, ‘jackson’, ‘willy’, etc.), it is simply a synecdochical use of a male name. This is rather a common way to create slang terms for the member in question in English. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 17 '13 at 11:37
  • I've not heard of jackson or norton in that sense, and neither has OED, which does have relevant entries for dick, willy and peter. – Andrew Leach Oct 17 '13 at 11:42
  • The OED also reports "John Thomas" as slang for penis. – Matt E. Эллен Oct 17 '13 at 12:56
  • I suppose it might be rhyming slang for something. One name in Britain for a penis is 'Hampton'. There is a place on the Thames called Hampton Wick, so 'Hampton' is rhyming slang for 'dick' or 'prick'. 'Norton' sounds to me as though it could be something like that. But the only place names starting Norton in the UK are 'Norton Canes' and 'Norton Fitzwarren' so I'm no further forward, I'm afraid. – WS2 Oct 17 '13 at 20:26
  • @WS2, I had thought about that, but I forgot to check. My road atlas has a number of other places starting with Norton but none of them look promising for rhyming slang. – Brian Hooper Oct 17 '13 at 22:03
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Not a direct answer to your question, admittedly, but this does clarify part of what you were asking.

The character's name in Life of Brian is Nortius Maximus or 'Naughtius Maximus'.

A T.V. Tropes disussion on the Punny Names in Life of Brian yields the following:

Monty Python's Life of Brian. Brian's Roman father was supposedly named Nortius Maximus (which sounds like "Naughtius Maximus"), and Pilate's friend is named Biggus Dickus (with a wife named Incontinentia Buttocks). Brian's first name is not a pun, but it satirizes the trend among Jewish-American families to give their sons old-fashioned English first names such as Irving, Sherman, and George in order to "fit in". (Many of these names almost immediately became stereotyped as "Jewish names".)

This reminds me very much of the quote from the Life of Brian:

He's not the messiah, he's a very naughty boy!

This is probably why you couldn't find it!

Other than this, I've never heard of using norton as a slang for penis.
Do you have any additional examples of this?

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    There was a manager in an establishment I had perhaps better not name, whose surname was Norton, and was described as "Norton by name, norton by nature". But that may have been me doing the describing. – Brian Hooper Oct 17 '13 at 12:17
  • I would have understood that to be a play on "naughty by nature". Being "naughty" may well involve the appendage in question, but that doesn't mean that norton is a direct slang term for it. – TrevorD Oct 17 '13 at 13:31

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