Most words meaning kiss are imitative of the sound of a kiss, yet these words don’t all sound the same. Could this reflect on the nature of kisses in various cultures, or simply the vagaries of language?
Buss entered English in the 1560s and seems to have come from a Welsh or Gaelic word, bus, meaning lip. Buss falls in the imitative kiss-word camp. Robert Herrick clarified buss’s shades of meaning in 1648 (Beware, Herrick shows no modern sensibility):
“Kissing and bussing differ both in this,
We busse our wantons, but our wives we kisse.”
Kiss is another imitative word, with precursors in Dutch, Old High German, Old Frisian, & Norse. My personal favorite precursor is the Old Saxon word, kusijanan. Imitative? Hmm. One must wonder about those old Saxons.
Osculate made its way into English in the 1650s from Latin osculari, & means little mouth. Try to say kusijanan with a little mouth.
Snog showed up in the language in 1945 as British slang, initially meaning to flirt or cuddle, though over time snog has come to mean kiss. Its origins are a complete mystery.
Smack is an imitative term from the late 1550s, originally meaning to make a sharp noise with the lips, then morphing within fifty years to mean a loud kiss.
Mwah, meaning either a kiss or an air-kiss, is another imitative term. Mwah came to the language in 1994.
Smooch (my personal favorite), arrived in English as a verb in 1932 & a noun in 1942, from the German schmutzen, to kiss, which most likely was born of imitation.
I also must admit a fondness for the term Give me a little sugar, which appeared in the script of A Raisin in the Sun in 1959. Though I can find suggestions that this euphemism was in use before 1959, I haven’t been able to verify any.
Do these different-sounding kiss words reflect cultural differences?
Vagaries of language?
Or are kisses & such the sort of magical things we simply shouldn’t analyze too closely?
My thanks go out to this week’s sources, Etymoniline.com Scriptorama, & the OED.
I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
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