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only by a snap of the fingers (Dufour, op. cit., vol. ii, p.
In modern Europe, as seems fairly evident from the early
realistic dramatic literature of various countries, no special
horror of speaking plainly regarding the sacro-pubic regions and
their functions existed among the general population until the
seventeenth century. There is, however, one marked exception.
Such a feeling clearly existed as regards menstruation. It is not
difficult to see why it should have begun at this function. We
have here not only a function confined to one sex and, therefore,
easily lending itself to a vocabulary confined to one sex; but,
what is even of more importance, the belief which existed among
the Romans, as elsewhere throughout the world, concerning the
specially dangerous and mysterious properties of menstruation,
survived throughout mediaeval times. (See e.g., Ploss and Bartels,
_Das Weib_, Bd. I, XIV; also Havelock Ellis, _Man and Woman_,
fourth ed. Ch. XI.) The very name, _menses_ ("monthlies"), is a
euphemism, and most of the old scientific names for this function
are similarly vague. As regards popular feminine terminology
previous to the eighteenth century, Schurig gives us fairly ample
information (_Parthenologia_, 1729, pp. 27 et seq.). He remarks
that both in Latin and Germanic countries, menstruation was
commonly designated by some term equivalent to "flowers,"
because, he says, it is a blossoming that indicates the
possibility of fruit. German peasant women, he tells us, called
it the rose-wreath (Rosenkrantz). Among the other current
feminine names for menstruation which he gives, some are purely
fanciful; thus, the Italian women dignified the function with the
title of "marchese magnifico;" German ladies, again, would use
the locution, "I have had a letter," or would say that their
cousin or aunt had arrived. These are closely similar to the
euphemisms still used by women.
It should be added that euphemisms for menstruation are not
confined to Europe, and are found among savages. According to
Hill Tout (_Journal of the Anthropological Institute_, 1904, p.
320; and 1905, p. 137), one of these euphemisms was "putting on
the moccasin," and in another branch of the same people, "putting
the knees together," "going outside" (in allusion to the
customary seclusion at this period in a solitary hut), and so on.
It would, however, be a mistake to suppose that this process is an
intensification of modesty. It is, on the contrary, an attenuation of it.
The observances of modesty become merely a part of a vast body of rules of
social etiquette, though a somewhat stringent part on account of the vague
sense still persisting of a deep-lying natural basis. It is a significant
coincidence that the eighteenth century, which was marked by this new
extension of the social ritual of modesty, also saw the first appearance
of a new philosophic impulse not merely to analyze, but to dissolve the
conception of modesty. This took place more especially in France.
The swift rise to supremacy, during the seventeenth century, of logical
and rational methods of thinking, in conjunction with the new development
of geometrical and mathematical science, led in the eighteenth century to
a widespread belief in France that human customs and human society ought
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