Etymologies of erotica and pornography  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

This page features the etymologies of erotica (17c) and pornography (19c).

In 2015, the seminal essay "A HISTORY OF “PORNOGRAPHY” (the word)" was published online.

Etymology of erotica

1620s (implied in erotical), from Fr. érotique, from Gk. erotikos, from eros (gen. erotos) "sexual love".

  • Erotica (1820)

from Gk. neut. pl. of erotikos "amatory," from eros; originally a booksellers' catalogue heading.

--Douglas Harper via [1], May 2005

Etymology of pornography

History of erotic depictions#The modern concept of pornography

The term pornography is derived from Ancient Greek pornē (prostitute) + graphō (I write ). Revealingly, the term is a hapax legomenon (i. e. it is found only once in Ancient Greek literature), in the Deipnosophistae by Athenaeus who refers to a group of painters of courtesans as pornographoi, painters of prostitutes.

The full fragment reads:

"You, you teacher of love, are in no respect better than Amasis of Elis, whom Theophrastus, in his treatise On Love, says was extraordinarily addicted to amatory pursuits. And a man will not be much out who calls you a pornographer [πορνογράφος], just as they call Aristeides and Pausanias and Nicophanes painters [ζωγράφοι]. And Polemon mentions them, as painting these subjects exceedingly well, in his treatise On the Pictures at Sicyon." --Deipnosophistae[2]

The terms pornographer, pornography and porn were not attested before the 1850s in the English language, though it had been used in the French language by Restif de la Bretonne in his 1769 social reform pamphlet Le Pornographe, a tract to reform prostitution.

Restif did not use the term in its current sense of depiction of people having sex.

The first time the word pornography was used in its current meaning (as the result of a depiction) was by French bibliographer Gabriel Peignot in his Dictionnaire des livres condamnés au feu (1806) in which he speaks of book which are "sotadiques ou pornographiques".

In the German work by Handbuch der Archäologie der Kunst (1830) by Karl Otfried Müller and Friedrich Gottlieb Welcker one finds the phrase "Von den Pornographen der spätern Zeit" ("On the pornographers of the later times"). Also in that book, the concepts rhyparography (from rhypos, filth) and rhopography are used. It will be translated to English in 1850 as Ancient Art and its Remains; or a Manual of the Archeology of Art, many sources still indicate this translation erroneously as the first appearance of the word pornography.

But the first appearance of the word pornography in English print is in William Smith's Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1842), which explicitly connects rhyparography, pornography and all the lower classes of art:

"thus rhyparography (ῥυπαρογραφία), pornography, and all the lower classes of art, attained the ascendancy and became the characteristic styles of the period"[3]

Smith also refers to the first and only instance of the word pornographoi in the Deipnosophistae. Paul Lacroix in his Histoire de la prostitution (1851-1852) also mentions "compilations pornographiques" (pornographic collections).

The first traceable instance of the use of the term pornography as an expletive is in the essay "La littérature putride" (1868), directed against Émile Zola and other naturalist writers.

In Italy, the word pornographic in the sense of a 'depiction of' dates at least from the time of the "Raccolta pornografica" (1866), a subsection in the Catalogo del Museo Nazionale di Napoli of that same year.

See also: whore dialogues

See also

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