Thursday, September 4, 2008


The word raunch is to raunchy as the word sleaze is to sleazy—or the word grunge is to grungy: by the process known as back-formation, a new noun is created by omitting the -y from an adjective. Raunchy, of course, is a word used by those who disapprove of bawdiness, smuttiness, licentiousness, and various other manifestations of blatant sexual arousal. Rock music in its Dionysian mode—Elvis 1954-58—has frequently been called raunchy, no surprise since the collocation “rock and roll” is, as almost everyone knows, a euphemism for sexual intercourse in Black English Vernacular (BEV). How did the word raunchy get its start? According to William Safire:

There may be a connection to the Latin rancidus, “rank, stinking,” and its English offshoot, with a more general sense of “odious, nasty.” The O.E.D. has a 1903 citation of ranchy, about a “flea-ranchy” old monkey. An early sexual connotation was in a 1959 British book that described a wedding at which the bridegroom spoke of his intent to worship his bride’s body. “There was an embarrassed pause at this; and then one of the bridesmaids remarked, ‘A bit ranchy, that.’”
Along the way, users of the adjective clipped the last letter, turning it into a noun. “Presley made his pelvis central to his act,” wrote Time in 1964, “and the screams of his admirers were straight from the raunch.”

Hence the pelvis is to raunch what sweat is to Funk, and smell, in the sense of body odor, is common to both. Raunchy is etymologically linked to the Latin rancidus (“stinking”), and “bad body odor” is also, according to Michael Jarrett, one of the meanings of Funk as derived from “the African concept of lu-fuki” (33). Raunchy and funky are therefore roughly synonymous, both invoking the body in all its rank, pungent fecundity. But neither raunch nor funk is synonymous with sleazy.

Sleazy songs are a subject for a future blog.

A Few Raunchy Tunes:

James Brown – Cold Sweat
Tim Buckley – Get On Top
The Commodores – Brick House
Confederate Railroad – Trashy Women
Elvis (Presley) – Hound Dog
Exile – Kiss You All Over
Johnny Horton – Sugar Coated Baby
The Isley Brothers – Between the Sheets
Bill Justis – Raunchy
Led Zeppelin – The Lemon Song
Jerry Lee Lewis – Great Balls of Fire
Montrose – Rock Candy
Little Richard – Tutti Frutti
The Rolling Stones – Honky Tonk Women
Joe Tex – Aint’ Gonna Bump No More (With No Big Fat Woman)
Johnny Winter And – Rock And Roll Hoochie Koo

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