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Having the horn: historical origins of horny

Having the horn: historical origins of horny

In 1998, Hot ’n’ Juicy proclaimed, via song, that they were horny. Horny, horny, horny, in fact. Austin Powers, too, has many a time, posed the question, ‘Do I make you horny baby?’ Yet, reactions to the term vary; some proudly accept it, whilst others shy away. But what is horny, where did it come from and where will it go? And does the history of the word explain why some might feel sheepish about embracing their horniness? 

The Days of Yore 

The term 'horny' originated from "having the horn" in the late 18th century, likening erect penises to the aesthetic quality of, well, a literal horn. Turns out ‘horny’ has its roots in the classic man-getting-an-erection scenario, making it clear that the term, like so many things, was initially reserved for cisgendered men alone. On the flip side, those without ‘horns’ but instead, vulvas, found their euphemisms to be far less on the nose. Phrases like ‘fluttering canaries in the garden of delight,' or 'rustling rose petals in the secret garden' delicately alluded to the arousal of cis women. It appears that in days of yore, they had a real knack for creative euphemisms. 

Lingering Gendered Undertones 

Over time, 'horny' seamlessly slipped into our lexicon, getting thrown around for everyone, irrespective of gender. Today, a quick Google search defines 'horny' as, feeling or arousing sexual excitement”. That being said, its journey toward gender neutrality hasn't entirely erased the gendered undertones, as the definition is often accompanied by exemplary sentences like "she was making him very horny," hinting at the lingering origins of the word. The historical baggage carried by the term 'horny' could be responsible for the discomfort often experienced by people with vulvas in describing themselves as such. To identify as horny is to unashamedly embrace your pure, unselfconscious animalistic desire, a desire that, historically, was repressed for women. 

Embracing Horniness 

Although the word carries a gendered past, when we fast forward to 1998 and hear the Hot n Juicy lead vocalist boldly declaring her horniness, she not only made a long lasting 90’s hit but she broke free from the term's gendered origins. As 'horny' gained broader acceptance, not only did the term evolve, but cultural attitudes toward horniness shifted towards a more diverse audience, arguably paving the way for hits such as Khia’s ‘My Neck, My Back’ and Cardi B’s ‘WAP’.

Language holds a potent power to shape societal perceptions, particularly around gender. It actively shapes how we perceive and grasp the concept of sexual desire: who can be horny and who cannot. 

Today, “having a horn” no longer defines whether you can proclaim your horniness. So maybe, just maybe, Hot 'n' Juicy were trying to empower us all to fight against and undo our sexist indoctrinations and inspire us to eradicate the need for ‘fluttering canaries in the garden of delight’. 

Now, anyone can confidently and unashamedly ask, "Do I make you horny, baby?", and hope for a shagadelic response.
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