Shag, bonk, screw, bang and knob: some interesting facts

Before you get excited, this piece is not going to mention the F word (that’s for another post entirely). Instead, I’m dedicating the next 850 words or so to much nicer slang for the act of sexual intercourse.


The British Advertising Standards body eventually rejected objections to the use of "shag" in advertising for the Austin Powers movie.

The British Advertising Standards body eventually rejected objections to the use of “shag” in advertising for the Austin Powers movie.

Considering my opening shot it seems fitting to start with shag, purely because as one contributor to the Urban Dictionary explains, it sounds softer than the notorious F word and therefore is preferred by women!

Surprisingly, considering the furore over the word on the release of the Austin Powers movie The Spy Who Shagged Me, neither of my favourite dictionaries, the Oxford and Merriam-Webster, have an entry for the word in terms of sex.

The Collins on the other hand attests the acceptability of the word has been accelerated by its use in the popular film. “Though still likely to cause offence to many older or more conservative people, this word has lost a lot of its shock value of late. It seems to have a jocular, relaxed connotation, which most of the other words in this field do not.”

As always, the Online Etymology Dictionary brings some sense to the discussion, explaining that the word was first used for copulate in 1788, probably from the 14th century meaning ”to shake, waggle”. In India it


Generally considered a British word there is also an American variation, boink.

Meaning “to hit”, bonk is termed imitative – in other words it represents the act or sound it describes. The Online Etymology Dictionary dates the original meaning from 1931, so it only took 44 years for the connection between the sound of striking something and copulation to be connected! Well at least in the UK; Americans didn’t develop their version until the turn of the century.

Those of you who have read my earlier attempts at describing the history of popular slang won’t be surprised that I had a quiet chuckle when learning that bonkers, meaning crazy, can also refer to someone who is slightly drunk. Since the condition is a precursor to many a bonk, it seems appropriate.


I love Merriam-Webster’s entry:

a usually vulgar: an act of sexual intercourse

b usually vulgar: a partner in sexual intercourse

Which of course begs the question: when is it not vulgar and who gets to decide?

As a verb, to copulate, screw dates back to 1725, stemming pretty unimaginatively from the notion of driving a screw into something. At the time it was also used as a substitute for prostitute, which covers Merriam-Webster’s second definition. It wasn’t until 1929 though that screw was first used as a noun for the “act of copulation”.

So this sentence has only been possible for the past 80 years or so: ”She was a really good screw, and I’d happily screw her again, providing there is time for a quick screw between the football and cricket.”

The etymology is a little sketchy but it could stem from the word for a breeding cow or the shape of a pig’s penis. Considering screw can also be a prison warder, wages, a worn-out horse or small packet of tobacco, I suggest one of the other explanations is more plausible.


Like screw, bang is “usually vulgar” in America . The Brits, however, are adamant that it is always crude.

And that’s about the most interesting thing I can find about bang – well except that it most likely comes from an old Norse word meaning hammering, putting it in the same “imitative” category as bonk.

It was first coined for sex in 1937.


What is it about those Scandinavians? Not only are they re

sponsible for bang, but knob is thought to have come from knobe, a 14th century word coming from the cold north (or maybe Germany).

The Danes have clung to the word, however. In the past 600 years or so the meaning has evolved, and today means fart.

A useful term, it can be both a noun or a verb and a stand in for penis. As a shortened form of knob head, knob is also a stupid person. This combination is, of course, an irresistible challenge.

“What a knob. It’s no wonder he complains of having a sore knob, he’s constantly knobbing his girlfriend. If he stuck to one knob a week the problem would go away.”

As an aside, autocorrect turns knob into know – every time. Perhaps it’s a subtle attempt to clean up my language – you know, “to know someone” in the Biblical sense.

Other snippets picked up during research:

  • The expression gang bang was originally gang shag
  • A bonkbuster is a type of novel “characterised by frequent explicit sexual encounters”.
  • Bump uglies or bump nasties has no apparent origin
  • Nookie is either rhyming slang from “nook and cranny” meaning fanny; British army slang from Arabic niki, meaning “I fuck” (whoops, there it is); or Dutch for the same expression, neuken.

You might enjoy my other posts:

Wedding tackle and the like, some interesting facts

Fart, fluff, toot and cheese: some interesting facts


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