Thursday, August 2, 2012



Most words meaning kiss are imitative of the sound of a kiss, yet these words don’t all sound the same. Could this reflect on the nature of kisses in various cultures, or simply the vagaries of language?

Buss entered English in the 1560s and seems to have come from Welsh or Gaelic, bus, meaning lip. Buss falls in the imitative kiss-word camp. Robert Herrick clarified buss’s shades of meaning in 1648:

Kissing and bussing differ both in this,
We busse our wantons, but our wives we kisse.”

Kiss is another imitative word, with precursors in Dutch, Old High German, Old Frisian, & Norse. My personal favorite precursor is the Old Saxon word, kusijanan. Imitative? Hmm. One must wonder about those old Saxons.

Osculate made its way into English in the 1650s from Latin osculari, & means little mouth. Try to say kusijanan with a little mouth.

Snog showed up in the language in 1945 as British slang, initially meaning to flirt or cuddle, though over time snog has come to mean kiss. Its origins are a complete mystery.

Smack is an imitative term from the late 1550s, originally meaning to make a sharp noise with the lips, then morphing within fifty years to mean a loud kiss.

Mwah, meaning either a kiss or an air-kiss, is another imitative term. Mwah came to the language in 1994.

Smooch (my personal favorite), arrived in English as a verb in 1932 & a noun in 1942, from the German schmutzen, to kiss, which most likely was born of imitation.

I also must admit a fondness for the term Give me a little sugar, which appeared in the script of A Raisin in the Sun in 1959. Though I can find suggestions that this euphemism was in use before 1959, I haven’t been able to verify any.

Do all these different-sounding kiss words reflect cultural differences?
Class reflections?
Vagaries of language?
Or are kisses & such the sort of magical things we simply shouldn’t analyze too closely?
Good followers, what do you think?

My thanks go out to this week’s sources, Scriptorama, & the OED.


  1. Sounds as if the Brits have traded "bussing" for "snogging" which still sounds like more fun than Hollywood air-kissing. Mwah, mwah, darling, love your work!

  2. The list will roll on and on, thankfully.

  3. HI Anne,
    Mwah back to you, dahling.

    & Steve (or should I type SK?),
    In the post I didn't mention that kissing appears to have taken the place of sniffing & licking. As to the list rolling on, who knows what's next?

  4. I don't believe I have ever seen Mwah written out. Tried to figure out what it was then I sounded it out, imitated it and, aha! Got it! I like smooch. A little sugar is awfully sweet too!