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What is the etymology of "horny"?

It isn't related to rhino horn, because rhino horn isn't used as an aphrodisiac in traditional Chinese medicine.

Wiktionary doesn't have any etymology info

The Online Etymology Dictionary says that it is based on the slang expression "have the horn", but it doesn't have any etymology info on that phrase.

  • 1
    I'd say the reasoning is the same as the one behind the notion (true or false) that rhino horns are used as an aphrodisiac: horns are in general characteristic of the male of the species and symbolise virility and masculinity. Consider how Pan (associated with masculine sexuality and general debauchery) is usually depicted with horns—as is, indeed, the devil, who is also often associated with sex and debauchery. Having horns = being studly, virile, and sexed up = being randy or horny. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 1 '15 at 10:02
  • Note that phrases don’t have etymologies; words do. Etymology is a word-study. Per the OED it is “The process of tracing out and describing the elements of a word with their modifications of form and sense.” An etymon is “Etymology: L. etymon, a. Gr. ἕτυμον (orig. neut. of ἕτυμος true): (1) the ‘true’ literal sense of a word according to its origin; (2) its ‘true’ or original form; (3) hence, in post-classical grammatical writings, the root or primary word from which a derivative is formed.” For multiword phrases, you just want their history, not their ‘etymology’. – tchrist Aug 1 '15 at 12:04
  • words in HOR in english are important because haw means white frost and it sounds like whore, so it's a salient syllable. Our ancestors used to have horn spoons for sugar, horn cutlery handles. cow horn is colorful, cheap, easy to work as wood, and pretty. They used horns for ears also, devils have horns, and male sexually rutting animals compete with horns. Horns have had sexual connotations, for as long as they have been mounted on top of fawn statues, and every since fawns and devils have been described in litterature. it's good to know that HAW is the english word for morning frost. – com.prehensible Nov 14 '17 at 11:11
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Horn is slang for the male erection, based on its shape - and horny is a derivative of that.

The OED has this definition for the slang sense of horn:

An erect penis; an erection. Also in phr. to have (also get) the horn: to be sexually excited. (Not in polite use.)

The earliest two citations in the OED are:

1785 F. Grose Classical Dict. Vulgar Tongue Horn Cholick, a temporary priapism.

1879–80 Pearl (1970) 257 A man with light trousers, of decency shorn, Stop and talk to young ladies while having the horn.

According to the OED, horny originally meant "consisting of horn" (citations from 1398 onwards), later "Callous or hardened so as to be horn-like in texture" (1693). Then in 1889 it was first attested with this meaning:

Sexually excited; lecherous. (Chiefly used of a man.) Cf. horn n. 5c. slang.

(Horn 5c is the definition of horn that I've cited above.)

Green's Dictionary of Slang gives the following etymology for horn:

[resemblance to an SE horn]

(where SE means "standard English" according to his list of abbreviations).

And for "horny", his etymology simply refers us back to that definition of "horn" and hence that etymology.

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horny (adj.) "lustful, sexually aroused," definitely in use 1889, perhaps attested as early as 1863; from late 18c. slang expression to have the horn, suggestive of male sexual excitement (but eventually applied to women as well); see horn (n.).

Online Etymology Dictionary

There doesn't seem much more to say - it's a pretty obvious metaphor.

  • I got as far as "to have the horn", as you could see from the question, but couldn't get any further than that. – Andrew Grimm Aug 1 '15 at 23:51
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Perhaps "horn" is a slang word for the male member in a state of excitement and, by analogy, "horny" meaning having a woody?

  • 3
    That seems like an obvious guess. Can you support or with a reference? – Chris H Aug 1 '15 at 9:31
  • "1. I woke up with a massive horn" from the Urban Dictionary (effectively, a morning glory). – Joost Kiefte Aug 1 '15 at 9:44
  • I'd say that's almost certainly the other way around, though I don't have any evidence. Horn meaning ‘erection’ sounds and feels more like a derivation from the adjective horny than vice versa. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 1 '15 at 10:03
  • See Chasly's answer for further explanation. So, no, horn does not follow horny.. – Joost Kiefte Aug 1 '15 at 10:36
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Something I remember reading a long time ago on Google Books: The Words of the Day. The Unlikely Evolution of Common English by Steven M. Cerutti, Ph.D.

Horny is apparently an allusion to the horned Egyptian god Amun or Ammon, who was in charge of, among other things, virility and procreation. The Wikipedia page has some graphic images attesting the very same.

*Horny* is apparently an allusion to the horned Egyptian god **Amun or Ammon**, who was in charge of, among other things, **virility** and procreation. His Wikipedia page has some graphic images attesting the very same.

From Wikipedia

Several words derive from Amun via the Greek form, Ammon, such as ammonia and ammonite. The Romans called the ammonium chloride they collected from deposits near the Temple of Jupiter-Amun in ancient Libya sal ammoniacus (salt of Amun) because of proximity to the nearby temple. Ammonia, as well as being the chemical, is a genus name in the foraminifera. Both these foraminiferans (shelled Protozoa) and ammonites (extinct shelled cephalopods) bear spiral shells resembling a ram's, and Ammon's, horns. The regions of the hippocampus in the brain are called the cornu ammonis – literally "Amun's Horns", due to the horned appearance of the dark and light bands of cellular layers.

  • 2
    This seems like complete speculation. I get that it's not just your speculation, but I am downvoting this post just because this seems so likely to be wrong to me. "Horny" is a word used in English; why would English speakers allude to an Egyptian god? Amon seems to have often been depicted without horns, as a man with a double-plumed headress, so it's clear that the cited source is not particularly accurate. – herisson Sep 15 '17 at 17:31
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    @sumelic The speculation would bear more weight if many languages that appear after the Amon myth was created have the same semantic term (cognate or not). – Mitch Sep 15 '17 at 18:17
  • Agreed, this one is a weird speculation. I've heard a greater connection to Pan than anything Egyptian. – Phillip Siebold Sep 15 '17 at 18:29
  • @sumelic the author appears to be a classical studies professor at East Carolina ecu.edu/cs-cas/foreign/faculty/cerutti.cfm . I agree the concept seems unlikely, but Steven M. Cerutti appears to be an authority on mythology and classical deities. – Mari-Lou A Sep 15 '17 at 19:20
  • Seems like a plausible "folk etymology" and thus worth recording. +1 – user662852 Sep 16 '17 at 2:01

protected by tchrist Aug 12 '18 at 23:52

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