Although once a word that dared not speak its name, thanks to popular-culture references as well as the devastating AIDS tragedy, condom seems to be on everyone’s lips these days.

But does anybody really know where the word condom (BrE /(ˈ)kɒndɒm/, AmE /ˈkɑnd(ə)m/) ultimately comes from?

The OED says:

Etymology: Origin unknown; no 18th-cent. physician named Condom or Conton has been traced though a doctor so named is often said to be the inventor of the sheath.

It is probably a coïncidence that it first appeared in the same century as shag, as the device surely predates the word. It just must have been called something else back then.

Even if you allow that trees can be barked, folk etymologies related to an apocopation of condominium, amusing though they may sometimes be (particularly as blue punch-lines), seem to be barking up the wrong tree.

So where do we anglophones (and others?) get the modern word condom from?

  • The original title was extremely misleading — it looked like you were asking about a different word, with a well-understood etymology. In case you feel strongly that the word should be asterisked out, then by all means revert that aspect of my edit; but it should at least be shown as being a six-letter word, not four-!
    – PLL
    Dec 22, 2013 at 21:31
  • @PLL I was teasing. Your edit is fine. But it has been a taboo word until very recently. For example, it only saw print for the first time in Italy in 2007.
    – tchrist
    Dec 22, 2013 at 21:32
  • Aw, I thought the title was a great joke. As well as “on everyone's lips,” heh. Dec 22, 2013 at 21:46
  • @Bradd, I appear to have been using the contraption incorrectly then! Dec 22, 2013 at 22:09
  • @BraddSzonye ’Twas. There are at least three more where that came from in the linked-to post, including one misquotation Easter Egg.
    – tchrist
    Dec 22, 2013 at 22:54

2 Answers 2


A likely origin of the word could be latin condere that means to hide/to keep safe. I've found two references pointing to that, it all gets back to that commercial site. Not a scientific source but sounds likely so I'm risking an answer.

I'll sum up briefly one short passage of this long article. A craftsman from Utrecht decided to make those little devices out of mutton intestine because of venereal deceases spreading quickly among the diplomats during the Congress of Utrecht that lasted several months. The British diplomats brought back several of those little devices with them. They started being made on a large scale and the name condom (from latin condere) given to them.

Maybe the question could be brought to history.stackexchange ?


From Online Etymology Dictionary

condom (n.)

1706, traditionally named for a British physician during reign of Charles II (a story traceable to 1709), but there is no evidence for that. Also spelled condam, quondam, which suggests it may be from Italian guantone, from guanto "a glove." A word omitted in the original OED (c. 1890) and not used openly in the U.S. and not advertised in mass media until November 1986 speech by Surgeon General C. Everett Koop on AIDS prevention.

scumbag (n.)

"condom," by 1939, slang, from scum + bag (n.). Earlier (by 1817) it was used in sugar refining as the name of a frame covered in coarse cloth used in straining. Meaning "despicable person" is attested by 1971.

sheath (n.)

Old English sceað, scæð, from Proto-Germanic *skaithiz (source also of Old Saxon scethia, Old Norse skeiðir (plural), Old Frisian skethe, Middle Dutch schede, Dutch schede, Old High German skaida, German scheide "a sheath, scabbard"), according to OED, possibly from root *skei- "divide, split" (see schizo-) on notion of a split stick with the sword blade inserted. Meaning "condom" is recorded from 1861; sense of "close-fitting dress or skirt" is attested from 1904.

Etymology - from the Wikipedia:

The term condom first appears in the early 18th century. Its etymology is unknown. In popular tradition, the invention and naming of the condom came to be attributed to an associate of England's King Charles II, one "Dr. Condom" or "Earl of Condom". There is however no evidence of the existence of such a person, and condoms had been used for over one hundred years before King Charles II ascended to the throne.

A variety of unproven Latin etymologies have been proposed, including condon (receptacle), condamina (house), and cumdum (scabbard or case). It has also been speculated to be from the Italian word guantone, derived from guanto, meaning glove. William E. Kruck wrote an article in 1981 concluding that, "As for the word 'condom', I need state only that its origin remains completely unknown, and there ends this search for an etymology." Modern dictionaries may also list the etymology as "unknown".

The story of the condom

The first known documentation of the “condom” was that of King Minos of Crete in about 3000 B.C. King Minos, who ruled Knossos, was a figure of history from the Bronze Age. (Read more here).

The Ancient Egyptians were one of the first civilizations to use sheaths. (More here).

The Ancient Roman civilization influenced the modern world in many ways, including architecture, government, philosophy, language, and even condoms. (More here).

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