“Last time I buy leather from him,” Marilyn Frack said. She was recounting with dissatisfaction the acquisition of her latest black leather jacket and skirt. “He called me plump.”
I sucked in my breath and raised an eyebrow. It’s true that Marilyn isn’t exactly a stick figure, but that did display poor judgement on the part of the salesman.
“Pleasingly plump,” Edgar Frack, her other half, said. “I do believe he misjudged.”
“It’s not that I think I’m skinny,” Marilyn said, “nor would I want to be, but plump is just not right. It suggests fat, round about the middle. Like a big plumped-up pillow. Or a purple plum. Or a pink lump. Someone who just plumps down on the couch. I get out and around, you know.”
Yes, you do, I thought, but said nothing. Maury, also sharing a bottle of wine with us around a high table at Domus Logogustationis, added a little lighter fluid to her flame. “Not that etymology is any guide to current usage,” he said, “but there is also the fact that plump comes from a Germanic root originally meaning ‘crude, clumsy, stupid’.”
“I think the salesman was plump!” Marilyn snorted. Then she snorted back the rest of her glass and refilled. “Then there was that guy – do you remember him, Edgar? – who thought it would be amusing to call me steatopygian.”
I remembered that guy. He was a guest at one of our word tasting events. He fancied himself witty, but he leaned a bit too far towards the rude in erudite. I seem to recall him having to leave early to remove a wine stain from his shirt.
“It doesn’t matter how expensive the word is,” Marilyn continued, “it still means ‘fat ass’.” True: from Greek στέαρ stear “fat” and πῡγή pugé “buttocks”.
“It sounds a bit like a dinosaur,” Edgar added. “Or an obese prehistoric bird.”
“Some people like large buttocks,” Maury offered. “Some cultures value them quite a bit. I’m not saying that you have a lot of ‘booty,’ but if you did, there would be fellows out there who would want it.”
Marilyn leaned close to Maury and purred into his ear, “Leave the booty for the pirates.” She lingered a moment or two longer, just to make sure he was beginning to feel nervous, and then settled back onto her stool. “They don’t call Dolly Parton plump or steatopygian.”
“That’s true,” I said. “They do call her zaftig.”
Marilyn pondered this for a moment. “Isn’t zaftig just a Yiddish way of saying ‘fat’?”
“Not really,” I said. “Nor even necessarily ‘Rubenesque’.”
“Rubenesque in Yiddish refers to a sandwich,” Maury interjected.
“Zaftig means ‘juicy’,” I said. “Dolly Parton, Gina Lollabrigida, Marilyn Monroe, all zaftig. You might recognize Saft from German – as in Orangensaft, ‘orange juice’.”
“Thus referring,” Edgar said, “to someone you would like to squeeze like an orange.”
“But that zed,” Marilyn said. “Zaftig seems a little too zany. Or like Ziegfeld of the follies. And it’s an anagram of fat zig. No, I know what I prefer. Buxom.”
We all nodded. This was the perfect word for her figure. “It occurs to me,” I said, “that if we pronounce the u as in rude and the x as in xenial, then b-u-x-o-m can be said like ‘bosom’.”
“I like the x,” Marilyn said. “It sits in the middle like in a cross-your-heart bra. And the /b/ is like breasts about to burst out of a bodice. It’s happy, smiling, pleasing.”
“Goes with wench,” Edgar added. Marilyn seemed to like this.
“The xo recalls a kiss and hug,” Edgar continued.
“And right in the middle of a bum,” Maury observed.
“Well, then,” Marilyn said, “kiss and hug my bum. Now, how did that limerick go… ‘I know of a lass who’s quite buxom; You should find her and go try your luck some. You won’t have to chase Her all over the place; Guys she likes, she just throws down and—’”
She was cut short by Maury having a sudden coughing fit from having aspirated some wine. She reached over and patted him on the back. “Dear Maurice,” she said, “surely you’ve heard naughty limericks before.”
“Yes,” Maury gasped, and cleared his throat. “I was just going to add that the limerick matches well with the etymology of buxom.”
Edgar pursed his lips and glanced upwards, pensive. “On the model of winsome, fearsome, noisome, bothersome, and so on, does it mean prone to bucking or to being bucked?”
“In fact,” Maury said, “the buck comes from Old English bugan, which has become bow. Someone who was buxom was easily bowed, and therefore compliant.”
“So the idea is the stereotype that chesty women are easy?” Marilyn said.
“No, actually,” Maury said, “from ‘compliant’ it came to mean ‘blithe’ and ‘gladsome’, and from that ‘healthy’, ‘comely’, and so on.”
“The perfect word,” Marilyn said, smiled, and sipped her wine. Then, just as Maury was in mid-sip, she leaned over, settling her chest into his shoulder, and purred into his ear, “Not that I’m not easy.” Maury gagged and coughed, spraying his wine over the environs, including his shirt and mine.
“You see,” Marilyn said, settling back onto her stool. “This is why Edgar and I wear black leather. It’s so easy to just wipe wine right off it.” She smiled pleasantly, raised her glass, and tossed the rest back.