Req: "dirty" words in Sanskrit

Allen Thrasher athr at
Mon Nov 4 15:19:47 UTC 1996

On Mon, 4 Nov 1996, Miroslav Rozehnal wrote:

> On Fri, 1 Nov 1996, Allen Thrasher wrote:
> > The y-root is the equivalent of the f-word.  Otherwise there are no taboo
> > words I can think of, indeed one of the oddities of Sanskrit is that the
> > vocabulary for sexual parts or things has no particular distinction into
> > the obscene, the neutral, the euphuistic, the medical, etc.; the words are
> > unmarked that way.  
> Well, if I remember well, in the Vinaya of the Pali Canon it is said 
> (somewhere; sorry I do not have the refference) that it is not allowable 
> for monks to address each other in terms like "you penis", "you vagina" etc.
> Maybe these could have been marked as "dirty words" at that time.
> Hope it helps,
> M. Rozehnal

Perhaps the ordinary words weren't dirty when applied to their objects
when they had to be spoken about (e.g. in the context of medicine or
vinaya) but became so when applied to people in contumely.

It's interesting that in European languages the most "disinfected" 
terminology for sexual parts and actions is that used in medicine and
biology, which is totally direct, precise, and uneuphemistic - except to
the degree that it is latinate and at least in some European languages
e.g. English that removes it slightly from directness.  On the other hand
ways of referring which are indirect can be more obscene than the blunt
medical vocabulary.  E.g. at a mixed dinner party in 1900 if a doctor
mentioned "coitus" he would offend people because of the thing that
mentioned, but if he mentioned "making the beast with two backs" he would
offend worse by the obscenity of the language itself, and he would offend
yet worse if he used the f-word. 

J. T. Molesworth's Marathi-English Dictionary (1st ed. 1831, 2nd ed. 1857,
corrected reprint Poona: Shubhada-Saraswat, 1975, p. xviii) has an
interesting comment:

"The insertion in the dictionary of obscene words may need explanation.
They are not obscene _in the view and sentiment of the Maratha people_;
they are ever in the mouths of the _softest_ and _most refined_ speakers.
Some few indeed there are which are, even by the Marathas themselves,
regarded as obscene: for the insertion of these we urge the exceeding
currency of them amongst the vulgar mass; and the necessity thence arising
of explaining them and proscribing them to the Marathi student; we
further refer to the observations under the word g~aa.d.  Still are there
in the vulgar tongue many obscene words, especially with the initial
letters ca and ph, which we have rejected utterly."

or lower side; the back or bottom of a thing gen.  G~aa.d ja.d ho.n~e.  To
become disdainful or elated with pride.  (6 other idioms).  Note.  Phrases
in use--in use with the vulgar and the _polished_, with the illiterate and
the learned, with males and females, with the man of hoary head and the
yet lisping child, and in ordinary, familiar, accepted, and most approved
used--amount to hundreds.  They are heard in the market and on the road,
in the field and the house, in the discussion of matters of social
business and in angry altercations or fightings.  They form an important
constituent of many causes and cases which ultimately appear in the halls
of the Collector and in the courts of the Judge.  This reason for
inserting them--and this has been our reason for inserting others of the
gross and coarse phrases and terms of the nation's vocabulary--has,
however, been deemed insufficient, and all but the above few are omitted.
This observation and this notice apply also to the _compounds_ occurring
below."  (There follow separate entries with translations such as "A term
for an inexpert, incompetent, silly fellow" and "fundament-wiper.")

Yabh and Yaabh are expressly condemned as not to be used by Kavyadarsa,

There is a body of research on abuse and obscenity building up in the
serial Maladicta, founder-editor Reinhold Aman, whose career at Texas and
Wisconsin was shall we say stormy, who had a nasty divorce, and recently
ended a federal prison term for letters sent to several judges and
lawyers. Whether these misfortunes were due to his research or because he
has a personality which has an elective affinity to his preferred subject
matter I would not venture to guess. His homepage is

A word for indecency not yet discussed in this list is graamya, M.W. "used
or produced in a village... rustic, vulgar (speech) (Vamana,
Kavyalankaravrtti, 2.1.4...." The obvious opposite for it is sabhya
"being in an assembly-hall or meeting-room, belonging to or fit for an
assembly or court, suitable to good society, courteous, polite, refined,
civilized, not vulgar, decorous (as speech)." 

Allen W. Thrasher

The opinions expressed do not represent those of my employer.

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