Rereading some old trashy fiction this weekend and one of the characters used the phrase “making the beast with two backs”. Now I’ve known for more than 50 years that the phrase is slang for two people having sex.
But I got to wondering, how did the phrase originate? I can’t think of a position that from any angle of observation would appear to be a beast with two backs.
I’m almost certain it’s mentioned in Othello - pretty sure it’s in the first act as well. Someone (forget his name) tell’s Desdemona’s father (forget his name) that Desdemona and Othello are making the beast with two backs. And also that the “black ram is tupping his white ewe”.
It’s actually in Rabelais, which predates Shakespeare by a good bit. En son eage virile [Grandgousier] espousa Gargamelle, fille du roy des Parpaillos, belle gouge et de bonne troigne, et faisoient eux deux souvent la beste à deux doz…
That’s about 1534, and if the saying predated Rabelais, I wouldn’t be too surprised.
Humans don’t have sex like people making porn, trying to show off their body parts to the camera.
Man lies on top of woman. There are lots of other positions, of course, but man on top of woman is about as common a position as can possibly be. Their fronts are pressed together. An observer - and in most peasant, poor, urban, tribal and whorehouse situations, there were never any shortage of viewers - sees backs.
What could be more obvious than the beast with two backs? It’s a phrase from a variety of cultures and hundreds of years. It’s about as obscure as calling breasts “melons” or a head a “bean”.
If I remember my high school Shakespeare correctly, there is another play in which this precise pun is made (i.e. referring to the presence of a camel, inferring that a “beast with two backs” was involved, i.e. a couple having sex). I don’t remember the play, it might have been Much Ado About Nothing.
I wondered the same thing–it seemed pretty obvious what Iago was trying to say when I read the play…and I was a naive young virgin when I read those lines. (Well, okay, once it was pointed out to me that it was a sexual innunendo. The image does just kind of jump into your mind.)