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I'm particularly interested in finding a word used in the 17th century that was more specific than bosom. I could find no use of cleavage before the 20th century or decolleté before 1778.

Interested in slang words for the narrow depression or hollow between the breasts of a woman. I am wanting to find a word to use in a work of historical fiction set in the 17th century. I want one character to describe the appearance of a woman with a very visible cleavage.

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  • Related: english.stackexchange.com/questions/600895/…
    – Gio
    Nov 24, 2023 at 17:03
  • Stomacher - a piece of clothing that covered a woman's chest, but it could also be used to refer to the area of a woman's chest that was visible between her neckline and her stomacher. Nov 24, 2023 at 17:12
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    I can find a number of slang words, but nothing clinical. Are you looking for a colloquial word? Also, are we referring to the clothing, the area, or to the breasts themselves? Nov 24, 2023 at 17:13
  • Google Bard suggests paps, but that was always a bit coarse. And décolletage, of which it says This French word was not commonly used in English during Shakespeare's time, but it was starting to become popular. Nov 24, 2023 at 17:14
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    Could you explain why you need to know this? You have correctly found out that the word is not attested much before the latter third of the 18th century. It, or equivalent words are unlikely to have been in literary use much before that time, other than in the relatively rare erotic literature.
    – Tuffy
    Nov 24, 2023 at 23:10

4 Answers 4

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Etymonline suggests the term decoloured (Cut low at the neck, décolleté.)

Décolleté

Middle English had an equivalent and partially nativized adjective, decoloured (mid-15c.).

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Poetic: Globes

pre-1705:

BREASTS
With what rich Globes did her soft Bosom swell?
Plump as ripe Clusters rose each glowing Breast,
Courting the Hand, and suing to be press'd.
The yielding Marble of her snowy Breast.
Thy little Breasts with soft compassion swell'd
Shov'd up and down, and heav'd like dying Birds.

Translation of Ovid, by a 'Mr. Duke'. Found in The Art of English Poetry Vol. 3

pre-1727

Once, I remember, as your flowing Vest
Disclos'd the naked Wonders of your Breast,
How meltingly the snowy Globes arose!
Fair, as the Fleeces of descending Snows!

Seemingly a translation of Ovid, by William Pattison. Found in The Poetical Works of Mr. William Pattison

1777:

The swelling beauties of the Female breast!
Soft Semi-Globes, by bounteous Heaven defign'd,
To pour nectareous juices, fweet, refin'd!

William Combe. Found in The Semi Globes, Or Electrical Orbs


Slang: Bubbies

1709:

I would hardly draw them from under my Morning-gown, to play with Helen's delicious Bubbies, which undoubtedly were very commendable Bubbies, since, in Conjunction with her Face, they made the Greeks and Trojans deal their handy Blows to liberally to one another.

Thomas Brown. Found in satirical text The Works: In Prose and Verse. Serious, Moral, & Comical

1725:

Others standing as Spectators to delight their Eyes with the fine Cuts and Capers of the young Mercurial Gentlemen, and the silent Tread and swimming Deportment of the nimble-footed Ladies, who seem'd equally industrious to win Hearts by the pouting of their Bubbies, the wriggle of their Bums, and the activity of their Pettitoes.

E. W. Found in The Amorous Bugbears: Or, the Humours of a Masquerade

1739:

By the Mole on your Bubbies, so round and so white; By the Mole on your Neck...

Thy fresh ruddy Lips, and thy Teeth all so white,
Thy round tempting Bubbies, which heave with Delight, ....

Found in The Cupid: A Collection of Love Songs, in Twelve Parts


Note: This was posted before the OP added their clarifications to the question; their comment saying "Interested in colloquial words, referring to part of the body" seemed, at the time, to validate this answer. (The answer received 3 upvotes before the edits.) Now that we know that the OP is looking for a term for 'cleavage', this doesn't fit quite so nicely anymore. However, the OP left comments under some of the other answers, explaining why those ones didn't work. Since they've yet to do so under mine, I am waiting for the OP to declare this as overly tangential/not helpful before I delete it.

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    globes just means breasts and does not refer to cleavage.
    – Lambie
    Nov 24, 2023 at 19:53
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    No understanding as to how this was flagged LQ. It does attempt to answer the question in every way, including supporting citations. Disagreeing with it (or any answer not "just right") does not make it LQ. Vote; don't flag.
    – livresque
    Nov 25, 2023 at 5:00
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    @Heartspring OP specifically asked about cleavage, not for a poetic discourse on what was cloven. Nov 25, 2023 at 8:07
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    @MarkMorganLloyd - yeah... This answer was made before the OP added all those clarifications. I was going off of the original question, and a comment that said "Interested in colloquial words, referring to part of the body". Nov 25, 2023 at 13:31
  • @livresque - it was probably flagged as NAA (see comments above), which sends it to the same queue. Nov 25, 2023 at 14:14
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I'm particularly interested in finding a word used in the 17th century that was more specific than bosom. I could find no use of cleavage before the 20th century or decolleté before 1778.

You will not find an answer. "Cleavage", in this sense, did not exist as a concept prior to 1946.

Cleavage is defined by the OED as 2.b.The cleft between a woman's breasts as revealed by a low-cut décolletage. colloquial.

It is first recorded as "jargon":

1946 Low-cut Restoration costumes..display too much ‘cleavage’ (Johnston Office trade term for the shadowed depression dividing an actress' bosom into two distinct sections). Time 5 August 98

The Johnston in question was Eric Johnston, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, amongst whose duties was that of imposing the Motion Picture Production Code on film-makers. This code stated what could, and what could not, be shown on film.

The term "cleavage" can thus be seen as a euphemism for "breasts" as a cleavage, in this sense, cannot exist without breasts.

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  • What do you mean the concept did not exist prior to 1946? There was no awareness of that aspect of women's anatomy before the word was coined by the Johnson Office?
    – Bob516
    Nov 25, 2023 at 15:00
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    Are you aware I am the OP?
    – Bob516
    Nov 25, 2023 at 15:15
  • Ha! No. In that case: "Cleavage" existed in several meanings prior to c. 1946, but not in the sense that you want. What we now call "cleavage/a cleavage" was not a concept that anyone had thought to describe - hence there was no word. The cleavage is the line separating the breasts and only by implication is it associated with breasts. "[A] cleavage" doesn't refers directly to "breasts": it's purpose is to avoid that mention. Not so much a euphemism, more a "polite misdirection".
    – Greybeard
    Nov 25, 2023 at 18:03
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From Wikipedia:

Women started squeezing the breasts and applying make up to make their cleavage more attractive;[39] cleavage was termed the "smile of the bustline" by contemporaneous Belgian chronicler Jean Froissart.

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    From where on Wikipedia? You need to cite the exact page.
    – Laurel
    Nov 25, 2023 at 14:22
  • That's a translation from French...
    – Lambie
    Nov 25, 2023 at 16:44

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