A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

What's the origin of "horny"?

November 19, 1982

Dear Cecil:

In the course of an intellectual intercourse (no pun intended, as you shall comprehend shortly), an ardent friend of mine and I vainly attempted to derive the etymology of the loin-quivering word "horny." As you are the sultan of the urban smut scene, we have concluded that you are our last hope.

Cecil replies:

If you were to apply your vestigial mental faculties to the problem, "Ben," it would probably occur to you that "horny" is vaguely related to "horn," the phallic possibilities of which are self-evident. The term dates from the 15th century. The horn/phallus link is also the reason some Eastern cultures prize the powdered horn of certain animals, notably the rhinoceros, as an aphrodisiac. Horns have also traditionally been associated with cuckoldry. I'm told that in many European languages, being horny means you've been betrayed by your spouse. For instance, the Byzantine Greek word for cuckold, kerasthoros, means "horn bearer." It's claimed this usage derives from the practice of grafting the spurs of a capon (a castrated rooster) onto his comb, thereby creating horns. Sound bizarre to me, but it makes a good yarn.

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