Did you enjoy a Romantic Valentine’s day with your dearly beloved? Or did she spend the night with someone else?! In any case, you might have had enough of love poems and heart shapes for one year, but please read on to learn some fascinating etymology on the subject of love and….cuckoldry!
The romantic associations of Valentine’s day first appeared in the writings of the great English author Geoffrey Chaucer. It was his famous poem The Parlement of Foules (The Parliament of Birds) which states that it is on Valentine’s day….”Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.” And as a result, the day is associated globally with coupling and canoodling.
But there’s a certain bird from the parliament which gave its name to a rather unromantic word, cuckold. The word cuckold, like many English words, is derived from a Norman French word, cucuault which came from cucu meaning “cuckoo”. A Cuckold is a man who is unaware of his wife’s infidelity (although more recent use of the word, often in a pornographic context, includes men who are fully aware or even willingly complicit in their wives’ sexual transgressions), this is related to the cuckoo bird because a cuckold cannot be certain of the paternity of his children and may be raising someone else’s children like the victims of the cuckoo bird do.
The word cuckold was more popular in Middle English and Early Modern English than it is today. It originates in an English poem about birds, just like Chaucer’s The Parlement of Foules. The etymology of the word is explained fully in the video below along with a rather convoluted explanation of a connection to Saint Valentine’s Day, making this a somewhat seasonally relevant post.
Have you ever heard people use this word in Modern English? Are there are languages in which it is more popular? Do please let us know in the comments.