14

My girlfriend and I were having a conversation the other day about sexual euphemisms and I told her about the following I'd seen on Saturday Night Live's Weekend Update by Tina Fey

According to a report released Tuesday, female inmates in the United States have been victims of sexual misconduct by corrections employees in every state, except Minnesota. So ladies, if you wanna rob a bank, but you don't want your cooter poked, head to beautiful Minnesota, land of 10,000 lakes.

It can't be that old, Ben Jones on Dukes of Hazzard played a character named Cooter and nobody thought anything of it. I've heard it used in this context many times since I saw that.

I checked etymonline and it only talks about turtles and a vague reference to an obsolete use of the word coot. Clearly, that is not from where the connection came since its use as I've described is recent.

  • 1
    I suspect that the "vague reference" is exactly the etymology. It may have survived in rural American from the seventeenth century and only burst on to the wider scene recently. – Andrew Leach Apr 10 at 15:42
  • @AndrewLeach The problem with that is while it's in the same neighborhood (so to speak), it came into use as a body part rather recently. Since coot meant "to copulate", a cooter should logically be one who does, similar to f--k is to f--ker. – Chris E Apr 10 at 15:51
  • 1
    Well, often the agent noun is what is used for the action: cf dibber, used to make holes to plant potatoes; counter, the marker used to indicate presence; and many others. – Andrew Leach Apr 10 at 16:36
  • srelherp.uga.edu/turtles/pseflo.htm Cooter is an edible aquatic turtle in the southern US. However, "nookie" goes back to the Viet Nam war era (as far as I know), and was in use at the same time (1960s) that cooter meant a wild game delicacy. etymonline.com/search?q=nookie Nevertheless, in those days even men who commonly used the term nookie with reference to dates with women, typically displayed irrepressible amusement whenever uttering the word 'cooter' for "turtle". I found it all confusing and wondered what was so funny. I had a feeling I really didn't want to know. – Bread Apr 10 at 23:52
17

Connie Clare Eble, a professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and scholar of slang, compiles annual examples of student slang words. The earliest entry for cooter, via Green's Dictionary of Slang, is from fall 1977.

cooter female; used strictly by athletes; cooter madness – girl crazy.

From there, cooter or cooder meaning vagina is attested from 1986, probably via vulgar synecdoche. The Concise New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English also dates the use to 1986, probably from the same source.

Green's has a contemporaneous definition for coot from "Razorback Slang," an article by Gary Underwood appearing in the Spring/Summer 1975 issue of American Speech, based on slang terminology collected among University of Arkansas at Fayetteville undergraduates from 1970–72.

coot: (1) Vulva or vagina; coitus with a woman. (2) Woman considered as a sexual object.

This is held to be an abbreviation of cooter, so this usage seems to have been in place among youth in the American South from at least the early 1970s.

Iva Cheung at the Strong Language blog covered the term in a 2015 post entitled "Cooters and Hooters," later republished in Slate. She points out a similarity with snapper or snapping turtle:

Snapping turtle began to be used in the South as a eurotophobic euphemism for vagina, and cooter eventually took on the same meaning, probably beginning in the mid-seventies.

The ostensible purpose of the post was to point out the lack of relation between cooters and cooties, which should be noted. The post also points out (links in original)

A few other euphemisms for female genitals start with the [ku] sound: coochie came from the hootchy-kootchy, an erotic dance from the late 19th century, giving us the shortened cooch, from the mid-20th century. Cooze and coozie (related to, and sometimes used with, floozie) have also been used to describe a promiscuous woman or her genitals. (Beer koozies, although also “sheaths,” are allegedly just a distortion of cozy. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.) Cooter, cooch, coozie—are all of these [ku] cunts coincidental, or might they suggest a phonaestheme?

  • 3
    Since one of the creators of Dukes of Hazzard was Jerry Elijah Rushing, himself a former bootlegger from Union County, NC (not too far from Chapel HIll, source of the earilest reference to "coot"), this raises that possibility that "Cooter" from the TV show was an inside joke of a name. Perhaps, nobody got the joke in 1979, but the word is now widespread. – kingledion Apr 10 at 18:00
  • @kingledion I came across at least one glossary that defined cooter as 1) a grubby Hazzard County mechanic, or 2) the contents of Daisy Duke's Daisy Dukes, but it wasn't exactly a scholarly reference. – choster Apr 10 at 18:10
  • 1
    Yes, we got the joke when the show came out. – John Hascall Apr 11 at 0:27
7

"Cooter" as a vagina was first recorded in a dictionary of campus slang written by Connie Eble from 1986:

Snapping turtle began to be used in the South as a eurotophobic euphemism for vagina, and cooter eventually took on the same meaning, probably beginning in the mid-’70s, although the earliest citation for this usage in Connie Eble’s dictionary of campus slang is from 1986.

A number of other sources support this description. The Routledge Dictionary of Modern American Slang and Unconventional English lists Connie Eble's UNC-CH Campus Slang as the original source.

Also in 1986, Martha Cornog's article "Naming Sexual Body Parts: Preliminary Patterns and Implications" (The Journal of Sex Research Vol. 22, No. 3 (Aug., 1986), pp. 393-398) cited an interesting instance of "cooter" being used as a pet name for a woman's "organ." From her source:

We both had been referring to her organ as her Cooter Bug and mine as my Stinger. The latter name was made up by my wife because of my increased sexual activity due to my taking bee pollen tablets just as Ronald Reagan does. (Male, 50, letter)

  • 3
    "Campus of dictionary slang"? – Admiral Jota Apr 10 at 21:20
  • Yes. From what little I can turn up, it was a small book - around 9 pages - and mainly something for local use. Eble would go on to write two books on slang, so it seems credible. – TaliesinMerlin Apr 10 at 22:40
  • 1
    But the article you link to refers to it as a "dictionary of campus slang". – Admiral Jota Apr 11 at 13:50
  • 1
    You could just point out I had a typo directly. :) Pre-coffee brain didn't get it the first time. – TaliesinMerlin Apr 11 at 14:00
  • Sorry, I take full blame for being unintentionally cryptic. – Admiral Jota Apr 11 at 17:29
3

I grew up in the South in the mid 20th century and every reference to a vagina was either cooter or pussy. My Grandma, born in 1909, used the word all the time. It seemed to be the acceptable or polite way to refer to a vagina in regular conversation, especially among women. I'm sure my Grandma wasn't the first to use the word, making be believe that it dates back much further. Therefore I disagree with the assertion that the use of the word started recently. "Pussy" was used more by men in a derogatory manner, as in "get some pussy". "Twat" showed up in school in the 60's.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.