Thursday, February 11, 2010

Adultery and its Discontents

One day a friend approached me and asked for the English word for a man whose wife has cheated on him. I told my friend that there is a now obsolete word, "cuckold," but that, as far as I knew, contemporary English really doesn't have an equivalent. I said that we have a word for the person who cheats, and that is, of course, "cheater." But we do not have a name for the one cheated.

The word corno in Portuguese is equivalent to "cuckold," but it has not obsolesced in everyday speech. I recently read an article in a Brazilian magazine about the internet's contribution to sexual infidelity, and it was replete with illustrations of men and women growing horns much like those you see in 15th and 16th century British woodcuts depicting "cuckolds."

"Well," my friend said, "what would you call such a person whose spouse sleeps with someone else?"

"A poor bastard," I replied.

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