There is this infamous obscene gesture that people sometimes use in North America. Somehow or another, one of its names has come to be the "bird." Why? Who knows. Somebody out there hates birds.
In Chinese the word for bird is 鳥. It's easy to find in the dictionary because it is its own signific. Easy, that is, if you don't get faked out by the feet (灬) , think it's some sort of ideogram for roast bird and try to find it under the fire signific. The funny thing about this
bird is its sound. If you look it up (11 strokes for signific plus 0), you'll find that the dictionary tells you it's pronounced niăo
Of course Chinese is a family of languages, including Mandarin. From the other dialects, as well as historical rhyming dictionaries, we would expect this character to sound like diăo
in Mandarin. Lest you think the Sanchon Hunjang is making this up, check Professor W. Baxter of the University of Michigan's outline to the etymological dictionary of common Chinese characters
that he is working on (you can find this word in file #5
). Professor Baxter indicates that the sound has been changed to avoid a taboo. Now there are several kinds of taboo, the most common of which would be if it were the same character or sound as a king's name. Luckily George A. Kennedy
gives us a bit more flavor when he says the "sound should be 'tiao' [his Wade-Giles t is equivalent to d in pinyin] but the n is a substitution to avoid a sexually tabooed homophone." The word that Professor Kennedy is too classy to mention, but the Sanchon Hunjang is not, is 屌 (that's 자지 초). Larger 옥편 will also indicate that one of the less frequently used meanings of 鳥 is 'u.f. 屌.'
Korea has collections of 奇聞 Strange [things] Heard, one of which includes the following tale.
一新郞合卺之夕疑其婦已經人, 欲使婦吐實地, 以手撫陰戶曰: “此孔甚窄. 以刀尖刺裂 可以納鳥.” 遂拔佩刀, 佯若刺裂之狀, 婦大懼急呼曰: “越邊金座首末子素稱, 不刺, 能納孔, 未有孔窄之事.” 云云.
I don't feel up to typing the definitions and sounds of all those words, but I'll do a mixed script 해석 with an 어려운 말 풀이 at the end:
One 一 groom 新郞, on the evening 夕 when he exchanged wineglasses 合卺 (i.e. married), wondered if 疑 his 其 wife 婦 had already 已 experienced 經 a man 人. He wanted 欲 to cause 使 his wife 婦 to cough up the full story 吐實地, and took 以 his hand 手 and while rubbing 撫 her 'shady doorway 陰戶,' said 曰: “This 此 hole 孔 is quite 甚 narrow 窄. I'll take 以 a knife's 刀 point 尖, stab it 刺 and rip it open 裂, so it will 可以 admit 納 my 'bird 鳥.'” Thereupon 遂 he pulled out 拔 the dagger 刀 at his waist 佩, and pretended 佯 just like 若 he was in the attitude of 狀 stabbing 刺 and ripping open 裂. His wife 婦 was greatly 大 afraid and 懼 hurriedly 急 called out 呼, saying 曰: “The last 末 son 子 of Prefect Kim 金座首 from across on the other side (of the village?) 越邊 plainly 素 speaking 稱, he didn't 不 stab 刺, but was able to 能 be admitted into 納 the hole 孔. There is no such thing as 未有 the case of 事 a hole 孔 that is narrow 窄.” And so on 云云.
☞ 合卺(합근): ①구식 혼례식의 절차의 하나. 신랑 신부가 잔을 주고 받는 일 ②혼례식을 지냄, 座首 (좌수): 조선(朝鮮) 시대(時代) 때 지방(地方)의 주(州)ㆍ부(府)ㆍ군(郡)ㆍ현(縣)에 두었던 향청(鄕廳)의 우두머리 육방(六房) 중의 이방(吏房)과 병방(兵房)을 맡아보았음 26대 고종(高宗) 32(1895)년에 향장(鄕長)으로 고쳤음 아관(亞官) 수향(首鄕).
So here we see in the wild acutal use of a bird representing that eel-like part of his anatomy that's always looking for a home. The annotator to the book that I got that quote from says that 鳥 is "남자 성기, 즉 '좆'의 이두 표기임." Maybe he needs a bigger 옥편, or then again, maybe he's right...unfortunately we don't get much etymological information from Korean dictionaries (Chinese either), so we are all left to wonder if these birds might not be related.
The real question is this, what exactly have birds done that has so angered humanity that the word "bird" is used in the East and
West as a symbol for a sexually tabooed thingies?