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A Condom By Any Other Name

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Condoms, jimmies, rubbers…you might think you’ve heard them all. Condoms are one of the world’s most common prophylactics. Here are 5 things that you might not otherwise know about condoms and their names.

1. English Nicknames

One of the most known nicknames for condom is rubber. However, if you go to a convenience store in Australia or New Zealand and ask for a rubber, you will be handed an eraser. This could make for awkward moments for Kiwis or Aussies traveling abroad who just want to erase a mistake: “Could I have a rubber, mate?”

Other English nicknames include jimmy hat, raincoat, or hazmat suit: a suit you don for dealing with hazardous materials. The term “love glove” led to the famous safe sex slogan “No Glove, No Love.”

2. International Nicknames

English isn’t the only language that had odd nicknames for condoms. In Denmark, they are called gummimand, which literally means “rubberman.” In Germany, they are called lummeltute, or “naughty bags.” Hungarian terminology emphasizes the protective aspect by calling a condom an ovsver, or a “safety tool.” Hong Kong similarly demonstrates the protective value by calling a condom a pei dang vi, or a “bulletproof vest.” In Portugal they call condoms “Venus’ shirts” or camisa de Venus: remember, Venus is the goddess of love after all, so it makes sense!

Other countries can be more literal with their meanings: in Nigeria, a condom is an okpuamu, or a “penis hat.” In Indonesia, instead of a hat, it’s a “penis gourd” or a koteca.

In English a condom is sometimes called a raincoat: in Greek it is sometimes called a kapota, or an overcoat. In Spain, a condom is called a globo, or balloon. Remember, although you can use a condom for a balloon, you can’t use a balloon for a condom!

3. National Tensions

Some nicknames of the condoms demonstrate international tensions. In Germany, a slang term for a condom is a “Pariser,” or a Parisian. In English, condoms are sometimes called French Letters. Why is France associated with condoms? This might be because other countries associated all that was decadent with France.

As a side note, a French Letter will protect you against the French Disease; or, to put it more plainly, a condom will help protect you against syphilis. Syphilis was called the French Disease because of the outbreak in the French Army in the sixteenth century; it was the Italians that coined that phrase (morbus gallicus).

The French, however, might have gotten their linguistic come-uppance with their terminology. The French called syphilis “la maladie anglaise,” or the English Disease. They even called it the Italian disease or the Neapolitan disease too. Other countries were equally derisive, with the Arabs calling syphilis the English disease and the Russians calling it the Polish disease.

Although most nationally-derogatory terms for syphilis are now in the past, the French still call condoms “la capote anglaise,” or the English raincoat.

4. Condom, France

Yes, there is a town in France called Condom. As far as linguists know, it has nothing do with the etymology of the word condom. There is a folktale that the English got their word condom from this location. English travelers came and saw French farmers sewing prophylactics from sheep guts. Whether or not this is true, you can still get sheepskin condoms (made from sheep intestines). They are softer than latex or polyurethane condoms and increase sensation. However, sheepskin condoms do not protect against sexually transmitted diseases, they simply work to prevent pregnancy.

5. The Real Origins of the Word Condom

Unfortunately, we don’t know the real origins of the word “Condom.” Was it named after a Dr. Condom, or a Dr. Quondam, as some tales tell? Is it named after a British army officer, Cundum? Or is it named after the Italian court adviser, Gondi? (A “gondon” or “goldoni” is another word for condom in Italy).

Whatever the origins of our word condom, and whatever you choose to call it, wear a condom. Condoms prevent unwanted pregnancies and prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.