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  • Paul Anthony Jones


(n., 1) a vegetarian; (2) a penis [19thC slang]

Slang is always popular on HH, but an odd fact about one of the ancient kings of Babylon really struck a chord this week: in Victorian slang the name of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar could be used to mean both “vegetarian” and “penis”.

A great many baffled emails and questions followed this tweet. Far too many, indeed, to let this go unexplained.

So how—seriously, how—did all that come about? Brace yourselves...

It all begins with a tale from the Old Testament Book of Daniel, in which the eponymous prophet interprets a dream King Nebuchadnezzar has had of an enormous tree being brought to the ground. Daniel explains that the dream foretells of Nebuchadnezzar’s own downfall, which will see him driven from the world of men and out into the wilds.

There he will be left to “eat grass as oxen” for the remainder of his dwindling days. A year later, the prophesy comes true, and Nebuchadnezzar ends up out in the fields eating a purely plant-based diet.

That might explain the “vegetarian” meaning here, but what about the—shall we say, anatomical one?

Well, the word grass has been coarse slang for, er, how can we put this... a lady’s intimate hair since the late eighteenth century, at least. Ultimately, among those pun-loving Victorians, “taking Nebuchadnezzar out to grass” became a none-too-subtle euphemism for sex in the mid 1800s—and from there the name of the unfortunate king became a slang term for the male member. Hey, you wanted to know...

painting of the biblical king nebuchadnezzar


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