Melons, moobs, and maracas: words for breasts in the OED
As of the time of writing, you can find approximately 50 different words for breasts in the OED.
The oldest of these is mamma, from the classical Latin word for breast (explaining why it’s pluralized as mammae, not mammas!). This word dates all the way back to Old English, but is still in use today – mainly in scientific reports. And, in case you were wondering: it is, unfortunately, not clear whether the same classical Latin word mamma influenced the word mama, meaning mother. (However, mama is generally assumed to have arisen independently as a representation of a baby’s vocalizations, perhaps specifically of the sound babies sometimes make when breastfeeding).
There must be something about ‘M’, though, as the majority of the other breast words in the OED also begin with this letter. There is mammary, for example (recorded earliest in John Steinbeck’s 1947 novel Wayward Bus). The similar mamelle and mamilla, each hundreds of years old, are obsolete – mamilla now refers to a nipple or nipple-shaped protuberance instead of referring to the breast itself. Then there are, of course, the descriptive melons; the poetic, if retired, Milky Way; and the imaginative maracas. In even more current use, moobs dates to 2001 (referring to unusually prominent breasts on a man), and is currently the youngest of the breast words in the OED.
As melons and maracas make clear, many words for breasts often allude to ostensibly similar objects – some more aptly than others. While certainly the connection between breasts and globes, and even knockers and jugs, is fairly obvious, if impolite, it’s not especially clear why breasts have also been referred to as animals like puppies or duckies. Rack and cans are common North American slang for breasts, but also require some pause for thought. And we can’t forget about the inscrutable Charleys or Charlies, which previously had referred to 1) a night watchman, 2) a small triangular beard, and 3) a fox. (Good luck figuring that one out.)
As with Charleys, there are several breast words at which even etymologists ultimately have to shrug and say, “Who knows?” In this category is norks, an originally Australian word that may have come from a butter label, reportedly featuring a picture of a cow’s udder. Dugs may be related to the Swedish dägga, from Danish dægge ‘to suckle’, but this isn’t certain. Jubblies is another Australian word for breasts with unclear origins.
While we don’t advocate the use of some of the more questionable synonyms explored in this post, it is always interesting to chart the various ways people have spoken about everyday things over time. Regarding more commonly used terms, boobs is a shortening of booby (booby is from the dialect word bubby, perhaps related to the German dialect word Bübbi, teat), and tits, a variant of teats, is also well-known (if even less polite). However, if you’re tired of those ubiquitous words and are looking for more unique language, why not try bazooms, or the somewhat bizarre fore-buttocks – thanks for that one, Jonathan Swift!