The Fascinating History Of The Word Dildo

Dildo is a funny word, isn’t it? Just say it out loud to yourself; “dildo”. See? Funny.

Now say it again, but in a Scottish accent. In public? Say it again, but this time do it really loud.

Hopefully it’s still funny. However if you’re here for the history of the word dildo, and judging by the fact you’ve clicked on a title promising just that, how about we all hop into the LELO Wayback Machine and find out together?

History Of The Word Dildo

First, there are 2 main theories dating back to the times when people spoke Old English – an era when ‘old’ was spelled with an ‘e’ at the end, thus making it ‘Olde English’. As with most English words Olde and otherwise, ‘dildo’ is thought to be a bastardization of terms taken from other languages.

One would be Diletto, taken from the Italian which means ‘a woman’s delight’. This seems a very likely place where the word we know and love today got its start, however other contenders include the following:

  • Dill-doll: an Old English term taken from the old Norse word ‘dilla’, a verb meaning ‘to soothe’. Literally then a dill-doll would be a soothing doll, or in this case an effigy of a member.
  • Dil doul: a phrase that referred to a man’s penis as used in the 17th century ballad “The Maids Complaint for want of a Dil Doul”, which was likely a toe-tapper of a tune at the time.

Speaking of music, The Century Dictionary and Encyclopedia, which in its published year of 1897 was touted as the ‘work of universal reference in all departments of knowledge’ (making it definitive), dildo was at the time used as a place holder in music like a ‘la la la di da’ might.

The Choice of Valentine’s

Finally, one origin that is backed up by a number of sources places the etymology as beginning in the late 1500s, making an appearance in the Thomas Nash poem The Choice of Valentine’s, Nashe’s Dildo, or The Merrie Ballad of Nashe his Dildo. In this case, according to Wikipedia, the word dildo referred to ‘a phallus-shaped peg used to lock an oar in position on a dory (small boat). It would be inserted into a hole on the side of the boat, and is very similar in shape to the modern toy.’

dildo town
Source: Wikipedia

Further proof of the word’s seafaring beginnings may also be lent credence by the fact that there exists a town in the maritime province of Canada called Dildo, with Dildo Island located nearby – however if you ask any of the locals, they’ll likely tell you the name comes from the small boat peg and not a source of delight for women since the dawn of man!

Check this out: What’s the Difference Between a Dildo and a Vibrator?

Written by: Donna Turner

Donna Turner
Donna is a Volonté contributor and freelancer who lives in San Francisco with her understanding husband and not-so-understanding teenage sons. Her work frequently appears in the Journal of Sexology and Women’s Health Mag. She hosts intimacy seminars and is currently writing a book on love languages.

4 comments

  1. I quickly scrolled down because I wanted to see if the word Dildo is offensive, I see this one comment “I learned nothing” almost died laughing

  2. Just a clarification (being in the area and having driven through the Town of Dildo many times). It is in the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, which to be specific is not considered part of the “Maritime provinces of Canada”, but rather an “Atlantic Province of Canada”… unless you wish to simply be referring to the maritime nature of the sea-faring peoples.

    Canada is a massive country with shorelines of 3 oceans, so simply saying a maritime province of Canada, is not very descriptive. If I was talking about a town in the US and said “Someplace, an American town on the east coast”… it would likely be more descriptive.

    Not meaning to nitpick, but the description of the town is both wrong in some ways, and EXCEPTIONALLY general.

    • I recall encountering a seventeenth century song with the lyric “a doggy with a dildo” many years ago when I was studying musicology in graduate school. Does anyone have any idea what the sense of the word dildo might be in that context?

  3. It’s been really a great and unique piece of an informative blog. Thanks! for sharing all the stuff…

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