Final Word

The fundamentals of naughty seminars and a nutcracker


An expert on any subject, attending a seminar, and inclined to philandering, might be hoping for some nut cracking of a special kind at the occasion.

We promised our readers a look this week at some currently very respectable words with surprisingly ‘X-rated’ backgrounds. It turned out to be quite a challenge to stay prudish, and, we have to warn strongly prudish readers that they might want to close this column now.

In our research we also came across some lesser-known naughty facts from history, including some about a pope, more than 500 years ago, with a special use for chestnuts, a fact that gave us our opening paragraph.

It has become a common and respectable practice in our time for experts and/or academics in whatever field, to attend a gathering, called a seminar, to exchange information, knowledge and ideas about their particular field.

For some of them it often also offers an opportunity to flirt or philander with delegates of the opposite sex.
In that respect, they are expanding the scope of the seminar to something akin to the origin of the word ‘seminar’.

It turns out that the word’s origin can be traced back to the Latin word seminis, from which we also get ‘semen’, which was the sole original meaning of the word. ‘Seminar’ has seen the expansion of the word to the figurative, implying the spawning of new ideas, knowledge and insights.

As we know, seminars are more often than not also social occasions where people from the same or related field can get to know each other or ‘network’. Often the programme of the seminar will include a formal dinner.

Papal occasion

If the seminar took place in the year of 1501 and was organised at the papal palace by Cesare Borgia, son of Pope Alexander VI, the formal dinner might have taken the form of a banquet that became known as the Ballet of Chestnuts.

The story, disputed by some, goes that a banquet was held in the Vatican attended by “fifty honest prostitutes”, who provided after-dinner entertainment, dancing with other attendants while getting rid of their garments.

Eventually chestnuts were strewn around for the naked courtesans to pick up while creeping on hands and knees. The pope, Cesare, and his sister Lucretia looked on and kept score of each man’s orgasms. The pope distributed prizes at the end of the evening.


You might, and rightly so, think that the behaviour of Pope Alexander VI and his family was fundamentally wrong. The word ‘fundamental’ itself does not have a totally innocent origin.

The word, which today means ‘most basic’, the core or foundation(s) of something, can be traced back to another Latin word, fundamentum, which meant ‘ass/arse’ or ‘back side’, if you want to be more polite.”

In this context the expression, often used by a close friend of mine, referring to narrow-minded people as “fundamentalist arseholes” takes on a greater depth of meaning.

Often the reaction of ‘fundamentalists’, when more flexibility on any particular issue is called for can, and often is, described as hysterical.

Now, ‘hysteria’ has a particularly interesting, and may we say, ‘juicy’ origin and history – a history that has spawned quite a few other developments and even inventions, which are only suitable for adult conversation.

Hysterically funny history of hysterical

This word, its origin and especially its development in more modern times, could lead to stories or jokes among those in the know – if they are of the not too prudent kind.

The word comes from the Greek word hystera, meaning womb or ovary, and also gave us the medical term ‘hysterectomy’.

While the word nowadays is often also used to describe crowd behaviour, be it of the panic variety, agitation or big excitement about rock stars, it was used in Victorian times to describe a condition of high agitation in females. It was believed to be caused by a condition in their sexual organs.

One way of treating it, was for doctors to use a so-called ‘water massage’ with a pressurised stream of water applied to those organs. Another technique, used by some doctors, was to use a finger to stimulate those organs to bring relief – or is it release? The term ‘orgasm’ would only come later.

According to one of the sources we came across, it was claimed that “the vibrator was invented for doctors who were getting carpal tunnel from using their fingers to give female patients orgasms in order to treat hysteria”.

The world of plants

The world of plants, and especially plant names, also delivers quite a harvest of X-rated origins and history. This includes:

  • The avocado pear that gets its name from the word ahuacatl meaning testicle in the language of the Aztecs;
  • The beautiful orchid, its roots often protruding above ground, got its name from the Greek word orkis, which – you guessed it – also means testicle; and
  • The Venus flytrap, that carnivorous plant that eats flies, got its name from the Greek goddess of love and sex, because its shape reminds so strongly of a particular part of a woman’s body.

The list goes on, but it is clear that those who claim that most men are obsessed with that part of the body immediately south of their navels, can’t be far off the mark.

Final word

I leave the potential off-colour jokes that can be made on the subject discussed to the imagination of my readers – and I know there will be plenty of them.
Finally, I would sound a word of caution to those who might ask their kids to do some fundamental research on the origin and history of certain words.

by Piet Coetzer

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