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It is a known fact that the same word (same spelling and pronunciation) is used to describe both a rooster and a part of male genitalia (I am not sure how vulgar it would be of me to use the word here, so I will not, just in case).

I always assumed that this is because at some point in history someone thought that there is some similarity between the two, and decided to use name of one for the other. (In my native language, we have exactly that situation, but with a generic word for a bird instead of specific species.) However, it came up today in a discussion with a native English speaker that he believed these were merely homonyms, and there was no relation between meanings.

Hence, I would like to know - what is the relation between the two meanings of the obvious word? Does using the same word for the both the organ and the bird involve a (humorous?) comparison of one to the other?

  • I'd think it was more that chickens were the commonest male/female animal hanging around a small farm or house. Sheep were out in the pastures, cattle were less common, but everyone had their cock and chickens for eggs and food underfoot. – Oldcat Oct 21 '14 at 0:29
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    Etymoline notes the slang sense is attested since the 17th century, but doesn't give a definitive derivation. That said, it makes reference to young men swaggering like a rooster, and things standing up straight like a rooster, and also alludes to the similar word "pillicock", meaning "penis", attested since the 14th century. – Dan Bron Oct 21 '14 at 0:30
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    At least one attempt to answer this question. – SrJoven Oct 21 '14 at 0:32
  • I vaguely remember there being something in Levi-Strauss about how most languages have pejoratives for their genitalia coming from names for animals. – Mitch Oct 21 '14 at 1:24
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From the Online Etymology Dictionary:

cock

"male chicken," Old English cocc "male bird," Old French coc (12c., Modern French coq), Old Norse kokkr, all of echoic origin. Old English cocc was a nickname for "one who strutted like a cock," thus a common term in the Middle Ages for a pert boy, used of scullions, apprentices, servants, etc.

A common personal name till c.1500, it was affixed to Christian names as a pet diminutive, as in Wilcox, Hitchcock, etc. Slang sense of "penis" is attested since 1610s (but compare pillicock "penis," from c.1300); cock-teaser is from 1891. A cocker spaniel (1823) was trained to start woodcocks. Cock-and-bull is first recorded 1620s, perhaps an allusion to Aesop's fables, with their incredible talking animals, or to a particular story, now forgotten. French has parallel expression coq-à-l'âne.

It seems that, in English, the connection between the two is that, at first, cock was an nickname for people who "strutted like a cock". Subsequently, the Scandinavian word pillicock (which shares the same etymology) entered English around 1600, and is probably where the specific association between penis and cock was born. Shakespeare used pillicock as an insult in some of his plays.

Today, pillicock has been shortened to simply pillock, which is used as an insult in BrE, and is rarely heard in AmE.

  • Wow at first I thought he meant pecker. – Tommy Oct 22 '14 at 2:43

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