6 words for kissing
To celebrate International Kissing Day, we’re taking a look in the Historical Thesaurus of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) to explore synonyms for the verb kiss across time.
1. Buss (a1566)
The noun buss, meaning ‘a kiss, especially a loud or vigorous one’, is first found in the mid-16th century, according to current OED research. It may be a variant of the earlier bass (‘a kiss’ or ‘to kiss’), or be imitative of kissing.
2. Neb (1609)
Neb, as a noun referring to the beak or bill of a bird, is found as far back as Anglo-Saxon English, and is used to designate a human’s mouth in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale (‘How she holds up the neb, the bill to him!’) As a verb meaning ‘to kiss’, neb dates to the early 17th century. By the late 18th century, one could also be said to dab nebs, dab being ‘to strike with a slight blow, as with the back of the hand’. In this case, of course, the strike is probably rather more welcome.
3. Suaviate (1650)
Classical scholars will know that suāvium is the Latin for kiss, and this has led to the verb suaviate in English, although there is currently only one recorded use of it in the OED, from 1650 (and a couple for suaviation, meaning ‘kissing’). The Latin sāvium was altered to suāvium by assimilation to suavis, meaning ‘sweet’, which is also the root of the more familiar English word suave.
4. Peck (1895)
As with neb, there is an association between birds’ beaks and kissing with peck which, from the late 19th century onwards, has meant ‘to kiss in a perfunctory manner’. The earliest known sense of peck, as a verb, is actually in the phrase to peck mood, which dates from the early 14th century and means to become angry, incensed, or enraged. Not the response wants to pecking.
5. To get to first base (1898)
Chiefly heard in high school sitcoms and the like, to get to first base (and similar variants) can mean ‘to make a successful start’ or ‘to reach an initial stage of sexual activity’. The exact distinctions between these stages are a matter of dispute, but the first base is generally agreed to be kissing. This sense has been discovered as early as 1898 (‘I next tried to steal a kiss, but slipped and fell before I got to first base’), only fifty years after the first known use of first base in its sporting sense, designating (in baseball) the first of the four bases which the batter must touch in succession in order to score a run.
6. Snog (1962)
Interestingly, the verb snog is first attested 17 years after the noun snogging (1945), according to current OED research. The origin of the term is unknown, but a connection with snug has been suggested.
and… unkiss (1562)
If you’re exhausted from all this kissing, then perhaps the verb unkiss will come in handy. First found in 1562, unkiss also makes an appearance in Shakespeare’s Richard II: ‘Let me unkiss the oathe twixt thee and me’.