Rings and Arseholes

I can concede the appropriate context to personal discretion, but I feel the line, “My bronze ring has never been breached!” is best declaimed loudly in affronted Frankie Howerd fashion at a dinner party.

Contrary to initial assumption, the line does not appear in Ronald Harwood’s ‘The Dresser’. Instead one finds the equally good, “I hold no brief against buggers” – satisfaction being derived here from the theatrically rolled ‘r’ in ‘brief’.

Unable to trace the origin of the unbreached ring of bronze, we could turn to Stephen Fry. He makes delightful mention of a ‘bronze ring’ in at least one of his novels, also referring to it as a ‘non-poking compartment’. Nothing about ‘breached’ though. I may have just added that word myself for alliterative effect, but God knows my longterm relationship with bran products gives the lie to it.

If I were as erudite as Fry and not an uncultivated oik, I would be well acquainted with the possible Vulgar Latin derivations. Martial refers to a ‘culus aeni’, a bronze arsehole. (“Kiss my culus aeni”, said the whimsically charming Stephen Fry to Hugh Laurie one day during rehearsals at Cambridge.) I’ve no idea if ‘culus aeni’ was common slang in Martial’s day or his own creation.

The Latin for ring is ‘anus’ and we already have a bronze one, (Martial), so this is possibly a strong enough case for a Latin derivation, although I could find no direct Latin equivalent, i.e. anus aeni.

Poor old Latin ‘anus’ though, innocuous enough as ‘ring’ or ‘circle’, became ‘so associated with the anatomical sense’, that it ‘drove out the other meanings’. Ring/circle was forced to adapt in order to distinguish itself from its arsehole associations and became ‘annulus’. For a laugh we could say this occurred during the furiously sodomistic Late Republic, but it must have happened earlier than that. Anyway,  we have ‘anus aeni’, ‘annulus aeni’ or ‘culus aeni’, or whatever has the most agreeable ring.

Robert Temple has interesting things to say about ‘An’ and ‘Anu’, Sumerian words for heaven and god of heaven and how these share a common source with the god Anubis of Egypt. The actual Egyptian word for Anubis is ‘Anpu’, which Plutarch tells us meant circle. In Sanskrit, ‘Anda’ is the word for ellipse. These are fragments of a profound mystical heritage, an unfathomably ancient knowledge relating to the rotations and orbits of stars and planets, cycles of time written in the heavens, a fascinating astro-theological etymology that spans aeons.

The Romans took these concepts and turned them to arse.

But I digress.

‘Ring is British slang for anus’, informs Wikipedia without commenting further. Did this use develop independently of Latin, or is it simply ‘anus’ translated? Does the slang date back to antiquity, surviving as a deep-seated linguistic relic of Rome’s manly grip on ancient Britain? I can only conjecture, but I am sure Fry would know.

Thanks for the diversion, Wikipedia. You are the friend of pseudo-scholars and lazy journalists everywhere.


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One Response to Rings and Arseholes

  1. Splendid stuff Julian – it certainly filled a hole (in my lunch hour). I feel much better equipped to deal with any unseemly suggestion at my next dinner party having scrutinised what might be described as your ring piece.

    Keep it up (missus!)


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