My dearest Reader,
I apologize ahead of time, but will confess that this post will most likely not go beyond a few measly paragraphs. It has nothing to do with my being lazy, but the topic itself. The ever illusive history of the merkin. What, pray tell, is a merkin? Well, it's a wig. A *pubic* wig. And they've been around for a VERY long time. The merkin itself was believed to have made its appearance about 1450, according to the Oxford Companion to the Body. I have no doubt whatsoever that it was around much longer than that obviously if there is no documented proof of it, then one cannot readily say it. While The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language claims that the word "merkin" is a corruption of the word "malkin" (which in c.1400 meant 'mop' as well as 'lower class woman'), I am going to be a total snot and disagree based off of my own piecing together of bits of history pertaining to the merkin. Now before you snicker and wonder why the hell I would even spend any time researching a pubic wig, I assure you, I wasn't in the least bit interested in researching it. Seriously!!! It sort of...well...fell into my lap. Ehm. Bad pun, I know. But here's what I found on my own, as very little is known about the detailed history of the merkin.
The idea behind the merkin itself seems to have originated from prostitutes. And not for the kinky reasons you think. Merkins were mini wigs pieced together with goat hair, horse hair or human hair. Should I mention that most human hair for wigs of those times were taken from corpses? Nice thought. Unlike real pubic hair, the merkin could be removed, boiled or placed in an oven to kill lice and anything else living in it. Prostitutes who were forced to shave off their pubic hair due to pubic lice had to quickly cover that area up and I'm guessing that the Renaissance period, in particular, had something to do with it. People in that era found pubic baldness extremely funny, and well, a prostitute couldn't readily be seen as a dunce if she's to make money. Merkins also hid something even more sinister. Venereal disease. A good merkin would cover sores from syphilis and gonorrhea. Women who were being treated with mercury usually also suffered from pubic balding.
How were they attached? Now this, I don't know. I've tried digging that up but was unable to find any sources that would give me documented proof of how it was physically attached. I'm guessing it was tied into place and in turn made it look festive and decorative. Maybe ribbons (if the prostitute could afford them, that is).
So...getting back to me being a snot. I disagree with The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language based of the following: It's all about connecting dots and realizing that slang changes and the use of a word can arise from a different origin than expected. According to Groses's Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1795) the merkin was defined as "counterfeit hair for the monosyllable." (Monosyllable was Grose's reference to the woman's crotch, lol). Now right after his brief little definition of the merkin is an interesting addition that states, "See Bailey's Dictionary". So what did I do? I went over and looked into Bailey's Dictionary (the one published in 1675 which wasn't cleaned up in later additions) and found his definition of the Merkin. And guess what? It wasn't a pubic wig at all, but this: "A dangerous port in Cornwall called such from the many storms arising there." When I read that, I immediately thought, "Wait. What real connection does the merkin have to 'malkin' other than 'mop' and 'lower class woman?' How did they make this connection? They had no texts or documentation they used to make that connection and they even stated that as such. It's an assumption that merkin is a corruption of malkin. But here's the thing. It was noted in many texts back in the day that men who recognized a woman as wearing a merkin was dealing with a dangerous situation...meaning she was disease ridden and covering it up. And so this dangerous "port" where "storms arise" known as "Merkin" seems like a much bigger connection to the actual origin of the word merkin than "malkin." WOW. It's very possible I have stumbled upon something that has baffled scholars for decades...heh...that is if merkins were a subject of interest to great historical scholars...
Until next time,
Cheers and much love,