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vocabulary (miscellaneous)

LHMP entry

Amer begins by tackling the Whorfian-tinged assertion that the lack of a specific terminology for lesbianism in medieval Europe contributed to a lack of modern scholarship about same-sex desire between women in that era, by noting that the existence of a diverse and specific vocabulary for the topic in medieval Arabic (sahq, sihaqa, musahaqat, al-nisa’, sahiqa) hasn’t resulted in a vibrant field of study. This is particularly disappointing given the significant surviving literature on the topic.

This is an anthology of literature, rather than an analytic text. The organizing principle for selection is examples of love between men or between women who are not biologically related. Literary texts often don’t overtly show the truth of relationships or how those participating in the relationship understood themselves, but they can show how such relationships were represented and expressed.

Van der Meer presents the details and circumstances of trial records from several late 18th century cases in Amsterdam, Netherlands of women arrested for events involving sexual activity with women. Sodomy trials of men were not uncommon in this context, often occurring in “waves” when some particularly eager administration pursued the cases. But the conviction and exile in 1792 of Bets Wiebes for lying upon another woman “in the way a man is used to do when he has carnal conversation with his wife” appears to be the first case of that type known from records.

The general scope of the work is language used to describe or refer to sexual and excretory acts, either as the primary meaning of the words, as a standard euphemism, or as ad hoc metaphorical or poetic reference. From the context of usage, especially the nature and formality of the text, one can identify hierarchies of offensiveness.

[Note: I’ll be including additional data and discussion of some of the vocabulary discussed in this article for my readers. The original article was written for an audience that is assumed to have a familiarity--perhaps even fluency--in the Welsh language. I think it’s not entirely self-serving to think that my PhD in Welsh historical linguistics might be excuse enough to think I can bridge that gap for my readers.

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