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The Fate of Popular Terms for Female Anatomy in the Age of Print

Alison Klairmont-Lingo
French Historical Studies
Vol. 22, No. 3 (Summer, 1999), pp. 335-349
Published by: Duke University Press
DOI: 10.2307/286711
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/286711
Page Count: 15
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The Fate of Popular Terms for Female Anatomy in the Age of Print
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Abstract

This article explores the history of popular terms for female anatomy in early modern France. When buried in the legal registers of the courts, the terms were part of the domain of local knowledge, accepted and employed as needed without remark. Their publication in Laurent Joubert's Erreurs populaires (1578) rendered their meaning and significance a matter of dispute and controversy. Some considered the vocabulary crude and morally corrupting. Others thought the terms were merely the obscure and muddled understanding of ignorant midwives--an attitude which justified their replacement with standardized medical terms. Still others thought Joubert might have fabricated them. During and after this debate, the terms surfaced in other printed sources, including both mildly pornographic materials and medical books intended for a popular audience. A close analysis of the terms suggests that they reflect the mentality which shaped the day-to-day realities of women's lives and women's own experience of their bodies.

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