Etymologies and attestation of μουνί

(See also μουνί vs. monín; μούτζα, μουνί and Tzetzes.)

OK, let's draw this talk of μουνίν to some sort of close. I'll present the first attestations of the word, as given in Trapp's and Kriaras' dictionary; and then I'll reproduce Moutsos' presentation of the various proposed etymologies, with a few of my comments.

The attestations are given with date of authorship, followed by date of earliest manuscript. The manuscript date matters because, as you'll have already seen from TAK's comments in previous threads, you can't trust mediaeval scribes not to interfere with the language of what they're copying.
John Tzetzes, Theogony (12th century/ca. 1400)
οὐκ αἰσχύνεσαι, αὐθέντριά μου, νὰ γαμῇ τὸ μουνίν σου παπᾶς;
Aren't you ashamed, my lady, to have a priest fuck your cunt?

The reading is preserved only in one manuscript, ca. 1400 ("turn of 14th century"). There is a possibility that the manuscript scribe has introduced this, pejorating whatever Tzetzes originally had written. The other manuscript preserving the passage, from the 15th century, clearly saw something worth censoring in the original, to have left the second half of the verse out. But given that it also censored the previous verse, mentioning a priest as lover, we can't be sure what it censored was a translation like "fuck your cunt", or something closer to the Proto-Ossetian's "have a love affair".

Entertaining Tale of Quadrupeds 467 (ca. 1364/15th century)
διὰ νὰ σηκώνῃς τὴν οὐράν, νὰ δείχνῃς τὸ μουνίν σου
(Sheep to Goat): You're here to lift your tail and show your cunt off!

The translation is due to one George Baloglou and one Nick Nicholas.

Miklosich & Müller, Acta et Diplomata Graeca Medii Aevi, Vol. II p. 53: Church synod condemnation of Constantine Cabasilas (24 August, 1383)
τέταρτον· ὅτι ἐβάπτιζε ποτὲ παιδίον, ἵστατο δὲ ἐκεῖσε καὶ γυνή· ἔχρισεν οὖν τὸ βρέφος τῷ ἀγίῳ μύρῳ, εἷτα λέγει πρὸς τὴν γυναῖκα· φέρε μοι τὸ μουνίν σου ἐνταῦθα, ἵνα χρίσω αὐτὸ, καὶ οὐ συγκάπτῃ
Fourthly: that he was christening a child once, and there was a woman standing there too; so he anointed the infant with holy myrrh, and then said to the woman, "bring me your cunt here, for me to anoint it; it won't swallow it up."

I don't quite understand what exactly συγκάπτῃ means here, and I'm not sure I want to. Yes, he was excommunicated. Legal processes, such as this, are usually boring, but at times can give invaluable linguistic evidence. Even though in this case the grammar has clearly been antiquated, the vocabulary has not.

Mass of the Beardless Man (ca. 1500/1515~1519) (Β 165, Α 499)
γραίας πορδὴ μαστίχα σου, γαδάρας μουνὶ πουγγί σου
an old woman's fart is your mastic, a donkey's cunt is your purse

The Mass is a relentlessly scatological parody; as the previous quote shows, not all churchmen were saintly, then any more than now. It was printed in 1553, but the two manuscript versions are if anything even filthier—as is shown here.

Mass of the Beardless Man (ca. 1500/1515~1519) (Α 375)
Μαγαρίζομέν σε, κὺρ Φασούλη σπανέ, καὶ ὑβρίζω τὴν ὡραίαν πατσάδαν σου ὡς ἀντίτυπον γαδάρας <τὸ> μουνίν.
We pollute thee, Sir Bean Beardless, and I curse thy pretty beard as a copy of a donkey's cunt.

Glossae Graecobarbarae (end of 15th century/1614) [cited in Meursius]
τῆς γυναικὸς τὸ αἰδοῖον, ὅπερ καλοῦσι μουνὴν.
The woman's pudendum, which they call μουνί.

The Glossae Graecobarbarae have survived only in citations by the lexicographers Meursius and DuCange; they've been claimed to originate in Cyprus, at the end of the 15th century. (Beaudouin, Mondry 1884. Dialecte chypriote. pp. 109-131 cites the glosses and compares them to Modern Cypriot.)

Stefano de Sabio, Corona Pretiosa (1527) [cited in Meursius]
μουνὴ. Cunnus. αἰδοῖον γυναικὸς.
μουνί. Cunt. "(Ancient Greek) woman's pudendum."

The Corona Pretiosa was published by Stefano de Sabio in 1527, with a reprint in 1543; it's a glossary that translates Modern Greek into Latin, Ancient Greek and (apparently) Italian. I'd like to register my astonishment that this is the first time I've heard of it. I'd also like to register my astonishment that nowadays I can *expect* a 1527 book to be digitised and online. It isn't, but all the other lexica are.

Johannes Meursius: Glossarium Graeco-barbarum (1614)
Μουνή. Membrum muliebre. [cites definitions from Corona Pretiosa and Glossae Graecobarbarae]
Μουνί: Female member.

Little gripe to Kriaras' dictionary: if they're going to cite words as being cited in Meursius, DuCange, Vlachos and Somavera, they really should also have mentioned De Sabio and the Glossae: they push the date back a lot.

Alessio da Somavera (Alexis de Sommevoire), Tesoro della lingua greca-volgare ed italiana (1709)
Μοῦνα, ἡ. μαϊμοῦ μὲ τῆν οὐράν, ἡ. (ζῶον) Mona, gatto fariano. (animale) // Μουνάρα, ἡ. Natura granda di donna. // Μουνί. βλ. Σάρκα. // ἡ Σάρκα. Le parti vergognose, honestamente parlando.
Μοῦνα, ἡ. Monkey with a tail (animal). // Μουνάρα, ἡ. Large feminine organ. // Μουνί. See Σάρκα "flesh". // Σάρκα. The embarrassing parts, to speak bluntly.

Somavera is more hesitant than previous lexicographers, but he does note the augmentative μουνάρα. He also shows that the Venetian monna "monkey", which I mentioned confused matters in Venetian, had also entered Greek at the time.

Now to the etymologies. None of them are straightforward phonologically: there is no obvious Ancient word starting in /mon/ or /mun/, which could account for it.
A friend of mine said he always assumed it was derived from μόνος "only, unique" (as in mono- in English), because there's only one of them. That's in contrast to testicles, presumably, but it doesn't exactly distinguish vaginas from penises though.

No, I'm not going further with that proposal.

Faced with this difficulty, Hatzidakis arrived at the ingenious (too ingenious) parallel of /evnuxos/ "eunuch" > /munuxos/. Each of the steps posited for that transition has precedent in Greek:
  • eunúkʰos
  • evˈnuxos, through regular phonetic change
  • *ˈvnuxos, through aphaeresis
  • ˈmnuxos, through assimilation
  • muˈnuxos, through epenthesis

This allowed people to look for etymologies of μουνίν in something like *βνίν. I admit to some residual scepticism; as I said, the epenthetic /u/ in /munuxos/ could be copying the latter /u/, which wouldn't apply to /vnin/; and neither /mn/ nor /vn/ is always broken up in Greek: /mnimori/ "memorial stone", /keravnos/ "thunder". So if we could find a less awkward etymology for μουνίν, we'd use it.

Like, say, Venetian mona, as I had at first leapt at. But as I've argued, the evidence from Italiot Greek is that the Venetian word probably does have a Greek origin after all, so it doesn't help get rid of the problem.

So, let's see who Moutsous reports has had a go. I've already mentioned the later etymologies:
DuCange (1688): βουνή, from βουνός "hill, mound". As in mons Veneris
Moutsos cites Psichari and Rohlfs as rejecting it, and there's no good reason for /vun/ to go to /mun/.
Koraes (1835): μύλλον "lip"; cf. μυλλός "cake shaped like a vagina" (Athenaeus 14.647a), and μυλλάς "prostitute".
μυλλός and μυλλάς are derived from μύλλω "to fuck"; μύλλον apparently is unrelated, and there's no obvious reason for /myl/ to go to /mun/, either.
Hatzidakis (1892): εὐνή > *εὐνίον "bed" > *βνίν.
It seems a bit stretched, although I did point out the parallel in Modern Greek with carriola "cradle with wheels" > καριόλα "bed" > "whore". Hatzidakis knew it was stretched too, and didn't want to rule out mona
Filintas (1934): μνοῦς "down" > *μνίον
Moutsos dismisses this; the proposal "drew no attention as being entirely hypothetical". I'm not as sure: the form is semantically possible, and phononologically less indirect: we need only posit *mnin and not *vnin. The word did stick around long enough to show up in the Graeco-Latin glossaries as a gloss of pluma "feather", both as μνοῦς and as the vernacular diminutive μνούδιον.

Moutsos' proposal is that this is a nominalised infinitive of βινεῖν "to fuck". We have several such fossil infintives in Modern Greek: φαγεῖν "to eat" > φαγί > φαΐ "food", πιεῖν "to drink" > πιεί "drink" (dialectal); φιλεῖν "to love" > φιλί "kiss". Moutsos adds γαμήσειν "to get married > to fuck" > γαμήσι "fucking", parallel to λύσειν "to untie" > λύσι "untying" (dialectal); that I'm not as convinced of.
  • On a scale of more to less phonological plausibility—intermediate steps postulated: we have (1) μνοῦς > *μνίον (2 steps); (2) βινεῖν (3 steps); (3) εὐνή > *εὐνίον (4 steps).
  • On a scale of more to less semantic plausibility, we have (1) βινεῖν; (2) μνοῦς > *μνίον; (3) εὐνή > *εὐνίον.
  • On a scale of morphological plausibility, we have (1) βινεῖν; (2) μνοῦς > *μνίον; (3) εὐνή > *εὐνίον. βινεῖν uses a nominalised infinitive, which is attested as a process, but rare. The dimunitives μνίον and εὐνίον are both unattested, and -ίον did stop being a productive suffix sometime in Early Middle Greek. At least μνούδιον shows the word stuck around in the vernacular for a while (the Graeco-Latin glossaries admit colloquial words); I see no evidence that εὐνή made it to the Koine.

On balance, all three have problems, but "bed" has the most problems; and I guess "fuck" has the least (though not by as much as Moutsos thinks).

The other evidence that Moutsos gives is:
  • βινέω seems to have survived into Proto-Pontic: βιντώ "to be in a rut" (> βινητιῶ), βίντος "gadfly".
  • Circumstantial influence of a nominalised τὸ βινεῖν in Alexis, cited in Plutarch:
    τὰς ἡδονὰς δεῖ συλλέγειν τὸν σώφρονα.
    τρεῖς δ’ εἰσὶν αἵ γε τὴν δύναμιν κεκτημέναι
    τὴν ὡς ἀληθῶς συντελοῦσαν τῷ βίῳ,
    τὸ φαγεῖν τὸ πιεῖν τὸ τῆς Ἀφροδίτης τυγχάνειν·
    τὰ δ’ ἄλλα προσθήκας ἅπαντα χρὴ καλεῖν
    The wise man knows what of all things is best,
    Whilst choosing pleasure he slights all the rest.
    He thinks life’s joys complete in these three sorts,
    To drink and eat, and follow wanton sports;
    And what besides seems to pretend to pleasure,
    If it betide him, counts it over measure (Alexis fr. 271 Kock; Plutarch: Moralia 21e)

    Bless those old-school translators for using verse. Damn clever: "to be lucky with Venus" (Ἀφροδίτης τυγχάνειν) as a euphemism for βινεῖν, which happens to rhyme with φαγεῖν and πιεῖν "to eat and drink"—two infinitives that happen to have survived as nouns in Modern Greek. I don't think this is overwhelming evidence that τὸ βινεῖν was a commonplace colloquial expression, let alone an expression that turned into "cunt"; but it's cute anyway.
  • μουνίν and associated compounds are common in Early Modern Greek. True, but they're mostly in the Mass of the Beardless Man (μουνιοτζακάτος, καβουριομουνομέτωπος, σκατόμουνος), which is reasonably late, and doesn't prove anything about etymology.

Moutsos also derives Italiot munno (and Erice Sicilian monnu) from *μοῦνος, explained as an augmentative of μουνί attested in Modern Greek. The augmentative I know is the one Somavera recorded, μουνάρα; but slang.gr confirms the existence of μούνος, adding the improvised proverb κάλλιο μούνος και στο χέρι παρά κώλος και καρτέρι, "A bush in the hand is worth two arses in the bush". I think.) Now, it's true that switching genders can act as an augmentative, although that's because diminutives old and new are neuter, so this can be viewed as a back-formation. But a masculine could also be just an archaism.

To explain: Ancient masculine ποῦς, ποδός "foot" survives in Modern Greek through the diminutive neuter πόδιον > πόδι. The masculine πόδας is also found, and is how ποῦς, ποδός would have developed on its own (switching third to first declension). πόδας is normally interpreted as an augmentative: if people remember that a masculine was bigger than a neuter, and the neuter is now the normal term, then the masculine must be an augmentative of the neuter.

But πόδας is (I think!) the normal Cretan term for "foot", which suggests its an independent survival, unaffected by πόδιον. And that's a problem with munno. μουνίν looks, at first glance, like a diminutive of *μοῦνος. We know of no Ancient noun like μοῦνος. (We do have the Ionic μοῦνος "only, unique", corresponding to μόνος in the rest of Greek; but we've already rejected that track.) It's because we don't have an Ancient *μοῦνος that we've ended up looking at *vnin forms.

But Bova is evidence that there was a *μοῦνος form at some stage after all. And Moutsos' proposal has no room for a *μοῦνος. (Neither does Hatzidakis'; Filintas' does only with accent shift.) Bova could be doing the same gender-switch as Modern Greek, forming a local augmentative. But it really does look more like an original unattested Ancient form, of which μουνίν is the derived form.

But until someone comes up with an Ancient form that can explain *μοῦνος, Moutsos' βινεῖν is the best proposal on the table. Not overwhelmingly good or unproblematic; but that's the thing with etymology. And scholarship. Sometimes, we only have weak hypotheses. As the great Greek humourist (and amateur student of mythology) Nikos Tsiforos once put it, "Scholars argue when they don't know what's going on. When they do know what's going on, they just say '1 + 1 = 2', and they're done."


  1. Nick, you have done a great job collecting all the evidence and I am afraid I cannot do the same. But since we need to end this mounology, please allow me to present my hypothesis.

    Monna in Italian is a form with syncope for Madonna (= My Lady) already attested in the XIII century, according to Palazzi-Folena (I copy the entry):
    monna [da m(ad)onna, mia signora; sec. XIII] sf. titolo che si dava nel Medioevo alle donne maritate, madonna: monna Filippa ; dim. monnìna.

    Monna could have easily become Mona - I don't know when, but it is certainly attested as such by Somavera in his Italian-Greek Dictionary; I copy from p.306:
    Mona. Κυράτζα, η, κυαράτζα, η.
    Mona. v. Gatta
    Mona. (animale) Η μαϊμού με την ουράν (ζώον)
    Mona. v. Natura della donna.

    I copied all the relevant entries, but I will only discuss the first one (= lady) in relation with the fourth (= cunt).

    The main reason you rejected the Venetian etymology was that it lacked a Latin origin. But the word "Monna" (= lady) was already there in Italian in the 13th century and if you go to trecanni you will see that the word also had ironical uses that questioned the dignity and the character of the ladies that it referred to...

    What I see here is a rather classical and easy to grasp "totum pro parte" synecdochical use of the word [the lady became her most significant body part, i.e. her pudendum...]

    If we went from Monna>Mona>Ven.mona>Ven. monin>MGr μουνίν or more directly from the diminutive monnina>monnin (with or without intervention of Ven. monin)>MGr μουνίν is something that may be difficult to investigate (I am not an Italianist and I do not quite know when and where the dim. monnina was used).

    However, I believe that instead of going through all the acrobatic postulations of all Greek etymologies (from βινείν, μνους, ευνή, etc.), we should accept this direct route, which makes perfect sense, at least to me.

    Now, one may ask why Italianists didn't think of Monna; perhaps they got confused due to the semantic relevance between Venetian mona and modern Greek μουνίν and started looking for a common ancestor which they could not find; who knows.

    I will close with a carnival song (it's the last weekend of carnival here):

    Το μουνί το λένε Γιώτα

    (and I think you can actually hear some of the old ladies singing 'to moni' rather than 'to mouni'...).

  2. αγαπητε Νικ, και μονο οτι ενας μη φιλολογος διαβασε το αρθρο σου, ειναι αποδειξη πιστευω, της αξιας του.
    αν μου επιτρεπης, το "συγκαπτη" για το οποιο αναρωτιεσαι μου φαινεται προφανες οτι σημαινει "συγκαει" (με ολο το θαρρος του μη ειδικου στη φιλολογια αλλα του ερασιτεχνη πατερα).
    και τελος καταχρωμαι της φιλοξενιας σου για να πω οτι με σοκαρισε ο φιλτατος ΤΑΚ οταν ισχυριστηκε οσα -τοτουμε περ παρτε- ισχυριστηκε για το ποιο ειναι το πιο σημαντικο, η Μοννα η η μονα...
    ευχαριστω για τη φιλοξενια

    ΥΓ ναι , ειναι μαλλον πιο αληθοφανης η ετυμολογια που προτεινει , οι γριες οντως το λενε μονι αυτο που το λενε Γιωτα...

  3. Βασίλη, να 'σαι καλά. Για το πότερον είναι το πιο σημαντικό—στους άρρενες γλωσσοπλάστες του ιγʹ αιώνα, εννοείται—ας μου επιτραπεί να μην επεκταθώ.

    TAK: The song's Epirus, where unstressed /u/ can be hypercorrected back to /o/, and we have no old evidence of a /mon/ form. Moreover, it's not that there was no Romance etymology at all, though I may have implied it: Cortelazzo himself says there's been no shortage of attempts to explain monna. The real challenge is still the distribution of monnu in Southern Italy, which points to Greek and not Venetian or Vulgar Latin as a source...

    And off topic again, but the song reminds me of an interesting contrast between Greek and Greek Cypriot folksong. Folksong collections were clearly bowdlerised in the 19th century, and give a curiously aethereal impression in their love songs: their maidens don't seem to have actual bodies (apart from the cover-all term λυγερή "slender".) Researchers bring up this kind of song to prove that Greeks could too sing about sex:

    The cunt's called Yota [short for Panayota]
    and the dick's called Panayota
    and you can go ask anyone you like.
    The head goes in first
    and the balls close the door.

    But that kind of carnival song doesn't disprove the hands-off approach to sex: it merely reinforces it—physical love is only a fitting topic for carnivals, when everything is let loose, but not for courting.

    Until I went googling just now, I had the impression it's very different in Cyprus, where folk love songs are aware of bodies. I don't think these (rather well known) lyrics are possible in mainland Greek folk song:

    "My clothes are by the river, my arms are in town, my lover is in fair Karavas. ...
    Would that I were a column on the river of Karavas: my lover would pass by, and I would kiss her on the mouth."

    "Oh, if I go from Rizokarpaso to Yaloussa, my eyes have never seen such a coquette. Ah, girl of Karpassos, from Karpasos I say, the two breasts on your chest, they fit in my hand"

    Or at least, I *thought* so; but a quick google of να τη φιλώ στο στόμα and βυζ(ι)ά του κόρφου σου shows that the Greek islands at least followed suit (Crete, Samos, Syros). And it turns out that the Karavas song is not Cypriot, but a 1937 Greek recording. (It's plausibly a folk song that got first recorded then, but the point is it isn't exclusive to Cyprus.)

    So I think I had the impression because Cyprus censors its songs less, not having gone via Athens, but also because Athens privileged the heroic ballads of the mainland, where physicality wasn't as prominent. Whether I'm justified in positing a mainland/island cultural split here, I don't know; but if it's true, it certainly wouldn't be the first.

  4. Nick, the distribution of monnu/munnu/munno in Southern Italy as well as in other places (in Italy I mean) is well attested but with a totally different meaning and etymology: < mondo, i.e world.
    Check out this:

    What does Rohlfs exactly say?

    I see no necessity for a Greek etymology (all the more because there is NO convincing Greek etymology...). On the contrary, Monna/Mona (as in Mona Lisa) is Panitalian, the texts referred to in trecanni (Dante, Boccacio) are also very well known and the step you have to make from Mona (Lady) to mona (cunt, with a totum pro parte synecdoche) is very small when compared with all the unattested jumps of all Greek etymologies...

    So, I guess we disagree.

    Your comment about corporeality in folksongs is very interesting but I have no opinion (I have never thought about it).

  5. Perhaps the chain : Mons Veneris>Το βουνίν της Αφροδίτης (Ιn Greek-Cypriotic)>μουνίν>μουνί deserves a more serious research.....

  6. - Corona Pretiosa is now digitalised:

    - The word μουνή is found in De Cagne's "Glossarium" (16th c.) also digital.

    - Every Greek school-boy taking his first steps in english has giggled with the similiarity between "moon" and mouni. But as S. Freud indicated, joke is a trick to express a secret and forbidden truth. May I propose as a working hypothesis that mouni is mythically connected to the Greek μην (month) and moon via the monthly men-struation? I think there are many evidences that moon is in many ways identified with the woman in myth and history. What you think?

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  10. Rumi, the great Persian poet, composed several poems in modern Greek. The word μουνί is to be found in one of them: Πόσα λαλείς, Η ψιλή μου καυλώθηκεν, θέλω μουνί.

    see http://www.opoudjis.net/Play/rumiwalad.html

    Note that Persian (= Arabic) alphabet has no vowels. Therefore mn is transliterated by some scholars as μονή (= monastery)