Etymology Of Sex Words: Erection

Etymology is the study of word origins and what better words to study than the sexy ones?

While on a walk through Melbourne with my husband, we saw a plaque commemorating the completion of the Trades Hall in 1924. I know I should have been reflective, awed even, at the labor struggles that brought this plaque to bear, but all I did was giggle that it said “erection” in big, chiseled letters. Embarrassing, yes, but it made me wonder about the origins of the word “erection” and how it can describe both a building and a specific type of male enthusiasm.

It comes from the Latin erectus, which means “upright,” like the early upright human-ancestor Homo erectus (I remember the muffled giggling in my physical anthropology courses when this genus/species was introduced). Erectus is derived, distantly, from the Latin word regere meaning “to direct, keep straight, or guide.” Apparently, regere is also the root of the word “regal.” Had I a penis, I think I’d like to think of it as such.

Photo by Kate McCombs

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About Kate McCombs

Kate McCombs

Kate McCombs, MPH is a NYC-based sex educator + blogger. She's the founder of Sex Geekdom, a global community for sex educators, researchers, and other folks who love having geeky conversations about sex.

  • Kevin

    I’m guessing it’s probably also related to rigor and rigid, though you may need to go back to PIE for that particular root. :-)

  • Debby Herbenick

    I often snicker at this use of the word, too :)