Hair: ‘the aggregate of hairs growing on the skin of an animal: spec. that growing naturally upon the human head.’ Thank you, the OED. But down here in the gutter, and staring upwards not at the stars but beneath the passing skirts, we know what hair is. Beaver, bush, muff, fur, bun, busby and all the rest. Poosy, to quote Mr Connery. Slang loves all things ‘down there’ and pubes are not excluded. But why bother with the lady’s low toupee, the boskage of Venus, even the shady grove of eglantine. Why indeed. All you need’s the simple monosyllable. Hair.
Good, basic term. Says what it means. (No beating, as it were, around the bush). And it’s so versatile. It’s a wonder for puns. There’s Rowlandson in 1845, in a caption to one of the series of erotic tableaux entitled Pretty Little Games:
‘The Country Squire to London came,
And left behind his dogs and game;
Yet finer sport he has in view,
And hunts the hare and coney too.’
I do not, I trust, need to gloss ‘coney’, although I think that ‘Country’ means only what it says. Or the contemporary ballad Wry-Mouth Bob And His Jolly Red Nob:
‘Wry-mouth Bob, with his jolly red nob,
Worked well upon the whole,
Each damsel fair would he suit to a hair,
And please them to the soul.’
(Whether Bob had in addition a wry mouth and a pissen pair of breeches is unrecorded, but the term evokes a recent victim of hanging) Then there’s the quasi-euphemism of the Lustful Memoirs of a Young and Passionated Girl, a stroke-book of 1904. ‘What a terrible state the darling is in to be sure,’ sighs our heroine, gazing on what Rabelais termed the stiff deity, ‘I think it needs a hair poultice. That will soon take the swelling down and draw the matter out of it.’
Metonymically it can also stand in for the whole woman, giving hair-monger, a womanizer; plenty of hair, large numbers of women and put down some hair, for a man to have sexual intercourse. A succession of kindred phrases keep the theme going. To be after hair is to be looking for a bit of hair who is looking to get her hair cut. The French couper les cheveux meant to visit a brothel but that phrase, and the UK synonym get one’s hair cut, is more likely euphemistic, an excuse offered by an errant husband who needs urgently to substitute the chaise longue of commercial pleasure for the double bed of domesticity. Even so, it is surprising to see it in that temple of asexuality Punch, in 1892:
Tommy: ‘What, Uncle going?’
The Wise Uncle.: (with assumed jauntiness). ‘Just to get my hair cut!’
Hmm. Thought they kept that sort of thing in the Pink ‘Un, old boy.
On one goes, brandishing one’s hair-divider in the hope of taking a turn in hair court, at which point the doughty hair-splitter (‘a thing’, as the lexicographer-cum-sporting journo Pierce Egan side-stepped it in 1823, ‘with use without ornament’) slices into, as it were, her hairburger, although this latter tends, unsurprisingly, to be eaten. The nudge-nudge-fulness, as Billy Bunter’s pal Inky might have said, is terrific.
And never more so in the locus classicus, the hair pie. Not, perhaps, to everyone’s taste: as Sir Les Patterson admitted, in his 1985 vade mecum, the Traveller’s Tool, ‘Certainly hair pie was never one of my beloved wife’s specialities.’ But then Australia is a country that has given us the floater, a gustatory delight that in its combination of meat pie, mushy peas and tomato sauce doubtless sours its consumers towards the kitchen’s lower creations. Other spouses are less discriminatory and as Playboy’s Book of Forbidden Words informed readers in 1966, ‘He ate hair pie last night and his wife’s been smiling all day.’ One may also be a hair-pie man, but this is not a cunnilinguist, but rather a male-to-male fellator, another example of the homophobic trope that renders the effeminate man a woman.
So there we are. Hair. Get it? Or shall I put a bit of hair on it?