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For Don and Chris
who asked me to check the genitive
of clitoris

not in Greek, which is easy, but Latin.
I’m trying standard dictionaries

in three languages
for that sleek particular satin-
ness of skin,

homologue of penis, male,
present in the OED

as rudimentary
organ in

the female
of many of the higher vertebrata,
found in all and any Carnivora,

nub (you might say)
of all those ravaged strata

of what we think about each other
our hit and miss way,
as illustrated from the Torah

to Pop Chic.
Don, sorry, those Romans, glib

though they were, and clearly
knew how to do it
(back of a chariot’s

not that much different
from back of a Buick)

I don’t think they knew it,
that felt-tip, stylus, nib:
unless their handmaids whispered it in Greek.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.


Vol. 19 No. 11 · 5 June 1997

On the existence of both the nominative and the genitive of ‘clitoris’ in Latin, with apologies to Ruth Padel (LRB, 8 May):

Dear Don and Chris,
with regard to the genitive
of clitoris

not in Greek, which is easy, but Latin,
well, Roman cowboys
did not use any toys

to stimulate that tender
remnant of paleo-sex.

They employed only a fleshy member,
not a dildo of latex.

Had Ruth tried to remember
the power of analogical creation
like the formation

of genitive iridis
from nominative iris,
dear Don and Chris,

she could have dispensed
with all dictionaries
in three languages.

However, if she needed an icon
to warranty her scholarship,
she could have consulted

not the Torah,


In Aedibus Kenkiusha,

to find on page
one hundred and eight,

that in Latin
the nominative is clitoris
and the genitive clitoridis

Luigi Romeo
Nederland, Colorado

Re Don Paterson and Ruth Padel’s discussion:

The genitive of clitoris must be clitoreõs:
any further remark would be otiose …
(But was it really the grammar they were interested in?
Or was it sin?)

Penny McCarthy
New York

send letters to

The Editor
London Review of Books
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address and a telephone number

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