This passage comes from Walter Isaacson's “Benjamin Franklin: An American Life.”:

Franklin wrote about a husband who caught his wife in bed with a man named Stonecutter, tried to cut off the interloper’s head with a knife, but only wounded him. Franklin ends with a smirking pun about castration: ... Some people admire that when the person offended had so fair and suitable opportunity, it did not enter his head to turn St-n-c-tt-r himself.

The above passage can be found in Google Book here: https://books.google.com.au/books?id=aWwUBAAAQBAJ&lpg=PA425&ots=O1Kchfi-2t&dq=St-n-c-tt-r&pg=PA425#v=onepage&q=St-n-c-tt-r&f=false

The complete listing of the original Benjamin Franklin's article: http://www.historycarper.com/1731/06/17/a-certain-st-n-c-tt-r/

I don't quite get how St-n-c-tt-r works as a pun here. How does the spelling of St-n-c-tt-r relates to the act of castration? Did Franklin use the absence of some character to mock the removal of the body part of the victim? Or is there something deeper to it?

  • 5
    Assume that one's stones are one's testicles. Maybe the rest will make sense?
    – SrJoven
    Feb 1, 2015 at 3:48
  • It's incredibly poorly written, on many levels. I'd just ignore it.
    – Fattie
    Nov 27, 2016 at 15:57
  • For any non-native speakers reading, "stone" or "stones" is just slang for "testicles". I got hit in the stones, that took stones ("that required courage"), etc.
    – Fattie
    Nov 27, 2016 at 15:58

1 Answer 1


The pun appears to reside in the fact that stone is a colloquial/slang term for 'testicle'.

The essential meaning of the passage

Some people admire that when the person offended had so fair and suitable opportunity, it did not enter his head to turn St-n-c-tt-r himself

could therefore be rendered as

Some people applaud him for not deciding to cut off the testicles of the interloper when he had the chance

To spell it out, 'stonecutter' would mean 'cutter of testicles' in this context.

I assume the bowdlerizing blanks are being employed to obfuscate the vulgarity of the pun.

  • Thanks Erik for a great answer. Is 'stone' still used today as a slang term for 'testicle'? To me 'balls' seems to be more common these days. Feb 1, 2015 at 4:24
  • @AnthonyKong - From personal observation, I think your comment is accurate. However, quantifying the respective prevalence of these terms in a corpus might be tricky, because you would have to weed out so many false positives (i.e. instances where 'stones' and 'balls' have no testicular connotations). If you're lucky, you might find that some hapless PhD candidate has already done the legwork...
    – Erik Kowal
    Feb 1, 2015 at 4:33
  • In answer to the question, Is stone still used today as a slang term for testicle, I draw your attention to Tom Clancy The Teeth of the Tiger (1994): "And just that fast it was all clear. Hendley had kissed off his political career in order to serve his country in a way that would never be rewarded. Damn. Did his own father have the stones to try this one?"
    – Sven Yargs
    Feb 1, 2015 at 5:52
  • 1
    @AnthonyKong It's still used e.g. in the phrase 'have the stones to do something': google.fr/#q=%22have+the+stones%22
    – ChrisW
    Feb 1, 2015 at 13:28
  • Presumably the reason for the bowdlerisation is that the pun is sufficiently obscure that it needs the attention meted out by the hyphens in order to draw attention to it.
    – abligh
    Nov 21, 2016 at 14:03

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