With a hey nonny nonny and a diddle dildo …


Reposted today. Just because.

A dildo, you might think, is a modern contraption and a word of our times — something that sprang to life with the advent of battery-operated toys and women’s lib and all that. But you would be wrong to believe that. It was alive and healthy and serving its perky purposes way back in heady Elizabethan times, and it found its way not only into the bawdy boudoirs of the 16th century, but also into the rhyme and verse of the period’s literary and musical fare.

Take Thomas Morley’s saucy song “Will you buy a fine dog?”, written in 1600. “With a dildo, with a diddle diddle dildo” (and variations) is its jolly refrain — and I’ve noticed, incidentally, that whenever our object of delight raises its naughty head in the lyrics, the musical notes tend to rise appropriately. When Morley penned his words to the song (see below — and hear a recording there too), was he really intending to evoke the same thing that resonates and reviberates for us when we hear that 5-letter word? Yes — absolutely — according to the linguistic experts, although obviously it was powered back then only by natural sources.

Although the etymology of the word dildo is unclear, the Oxford English Dictionary explains its colorful early literary history: the word’s first appearance in English was in Thomas Nashe’s Choise of Valentines or the Merie Ballad of Nash his Dildo (c. 1593). The word also appears in Ben Jonson’s 1610 play, The Alchemist. William Shakespeare used the term once in The Winter’s Tale, believed to be from 1610 or 1611, but not printed until the First Folio of 1623.

The Online Etymology Dictionary, also dating it back to the 1590s, speculates that dildo might have been a corruption of the Italian word deletto, “delight,” from the Latin dilectio, noun of action from diligere “to esteem highly, to love”. Or (less likely) that it might have come from the English word diddle.

Circulating on the online discussion boards is a theory that dildo began its life in the 16th century referring to a loaf of dill bread (as in “dill dough”). There doesn’t seem to be any evidence for this idea, but I’m suddenly seeing the Pillsbury man in a very different light …

A contemporary of Morley, John Wilmot, the rakish 2nd Earl of Rochester, wrote a bawdy poem in 1673 called Signior Dildo, describing the antics of a Spanish philanderer; there’s little to suggest that Wilmot’s hero was masquerading as a herbed loaf — but you never know what might have appealed to those lusty Restoration women. The first four stanzas of the poem follow Morley’s ditty below.

To hear the fine late countertenor Alfred Deller singing ‘Will you buy a fine dog’ — and to follow along with the words and music — go to this YouTube video. Here are the words to the song:

Will you buy a fine dog?
by Thomas Morley, 1600

Will you buy a fine dog, with a hole in its head?
With a dildo, with a dildo, dildo, with a dildo, dildo, dildo;
muffs, cuffs, ribatos, and fine sisters’ thread.
With a dildo, with a dildo, dildo, with a dildo, dildo;
I stand not on points, pins, periwigs, combs, glasses,
Gloves, garters, girdles, busks, for the brisk lasses;
But I have other dainty, dainty tricks,
Sleek stones and potting  sticks.
With a dildo, dildo, dildo, diddle diddle dildo, with a diddle, diddle,
And for a need my pretty, pretty, pretty pods
Amber, civet, and musk cods
With a dildo, with a diddle diddle dildo,
with a diddle, diddle, diddle, diddle, diddle, diddle, diddle, diddle dildo,
with a dildo, diddle, diddle, diddle, diddle, diddle, diddle dildo.


Signior Dildo
by John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester

You ladies of merry England
Who have been to kiss the Duchess’s hand,
Pray, did you not lately observe in the show
A noble Italian called Signior Dildo?

This signior was one of the Duchess’s train
And helped to conduct her over the main;
But now she cries out, ‘To the Duke I will go,
I have no more need for Signior Dildo.’

At the Sign of the Cross in St James’s Street,
When next you go thither to make yourselves sweet
By buying of powder, gloves, essence, or so,
You may chance to get a sight of Signior Dildo.

You would take him at first for no person of note,
Because he appears in a plain leather coat,
But when you his virtuous abilities know,
You’ll fall down and worship Signior Dildo.


Originally posted on Dec 13, 2013.

5 thoughts on “With a hey nonny nonny and a diddle dildo …

  1. Joris

    accidentobizaro: Often in Language the V and B are interchangeable. In Spanish they even pronounce a V as a B. Ribato becomes Rivato. So ribato means Rivet in English.

    As Mobo said: a fastening pin clenched at both ends

  2. Pingback: Shakespeare’s dildo, and other secret Early Modern pleasures – Strong Language

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