Stop merkin' about

The word merkin has been queried by an Internet correspondent who said simply "See my username!" and whose address was cited as "merkinskin@aol.com".
    Well may you ask, sir or madam, since in the early 17th century a merkin was a pubic wig. Merkin also meant an artificial vagina and later developed into a slang term for the female genitals.
    I'm still baffled as to why (and how!) people would use pubic wigs, but now at least I know that merkin came from malkin, according to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. This was a diminutive of Maud or Matilda, and was used as a typical name of a lower class, untidy or sluttish woman, especially a servant.
    It was also the name for a female spectre or demon, a rag mop, a scarecrow and a rag puppet. Presumably the rag mop was the inspiration for merkin, when people decided they simply had to have pubic wigs, and names for them.
"I say, darling, could you pass me my err, you know, the hairy thing?"
"You mean the merkin?"
"Of course, merkin. Silly me. Now, which way up does it go again?"

Greg Evans noticed my bafflement about the how and why of merkins and writes: "Just a line to note also the perhaps better known grimalkin or greymalkin as an extension of the same - either a cat or an old woman. Also you wonder why a pubic wig - well, why a codpiece, or a ruff or any of many others e.g. grunge, purple crushed velvet flares? Hope this helps to ease your worries."

And Quentin Cobb adds: "I was reading your web page and came upon your discussion of the word merkin. This word has seen a recent surge in popularity on the Internet by Brits referring to Americans. Look at alt.fan.pratchet (Terry Pratchet) for examples. Some merkins responded by talking about Yurrups for Europeans but this fails the test of having an obscure but ribald other meaning - unless the joke is on me and yurrups is merkin for piles.

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