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Beltane 2009

WTF is a Merkin?
by Zabet Stewart

Merkin. Pronounced "mer" as in mermaid and "kin" as in kinsfolk. Merkin: a wig for your pubic region. The chemo made ALL her hair fall out so she decided to sport a merkin.

Grose's Classical Dictionary of Vulgar Tongue (1796, ed. 3):"Merkin, counterfeit hair for women's privy parts."

Not to be confused with 'Merkin (NB the preceding apostrophe!), which is a shortened form of American, usually referring to blindly patriotic idiots. Also, the pronunciation is different: in this case "mer" is pronounced like mare, a female horse. "Kin" remains the same. This is because American is a four-syllable word pronounced by many (usually uneducated) Americans as Uh-mare-uh-kin. The change in vowel sound in the second syllable is kept when it is shortened to a two-syllable word during colloquial speech. But enough about 'Merkins.

[Zabet from 2024 says: Wait, just one more thing about 'Merkins it's now more popular to use Murica and Murican (with or without a preceding apostrophe, depending on how fancy you feel), but 20ish years ago, 'Merkin had its place. It just lost, like Betamax to VHS, or HD DVD to BluRay. Ok, as you were.]

The Oxford English Dictionary cannot trace the exact etymology of the word, but does list its first use in written English as the year 1617 CE. It is perhaps related to the word malkin, a term for a "sluttish woman" that may have come from a diminutive form of the name Mary, which was first seen around the year 1250 CE. A mere 40 years after merkin was used to refer to a pubic wig, it was already being used (again, in written English) as a slang term for female genitalia.

"Oh my god, shut up with that PhD crap!" I hear you cry, "and why would anyone need a pubic wig?" Look, you've got to remember that four and five hundred years ago, people were really fucking filthy. Hell, they were pretty damn filthy a mere 100 years ago. Pubic lice ("crabs") were easiest dispatched if you shaved the infected area and many other signs of sexually transmitted diseases such as sores and warts could be covered by a merkin. Think about it: if the only skill you had to sell were your services as a prostitute, donning a merkin might help you keep your job.

"All right then," I hear you say in a much more reasonable tone (really, there was no reason to get so snippy before!), "but I'm a modern citizen who is disease-free. Why would I want a merkin?" The question, my dears, is why wouldn't you? A merkin, like any wig, mask, or costume, allows you to switch roles for a little while. Always wanted to have a shocking blue snatch without the harsh chemicals? Got a mermaid fantasy to act out? Wonder how many puns on snatch, box, pussy, twat, cunt, and fish you can make? The merkin is for you.

"I am convinced!" I hear you shout with the giddy enthusiasm of the newly converted, "Now how do I get the damn thing on?" Honestly, I've no idea how they did it in the 1600s, probably some kind of cancer-causing paste, but today we have spirit gum (widely used by stage and screen actors), eyelash glue, and toupee tape. Allergic to those options? We've also got Good Old 'Merkin Ingenuity to fall back on: Sew on some jump rings to the back and wind a length of fishing line around your hips like a belt. God bless the USA!