Don’t ask me why, but yesterday I had reason to type swive into my iPhone. Now, iPhones have (as you may know) an autocorrect feature that makes up for the general sloppiness of typing on its small touch-screen keyboard; if you didn’t type a word it recognizes, it guesses what word you really wanted to type. For swive it reckoned I really wanted sauce. Hmm…
What is swive? It has that swooshing sw onset… Is it related to swivel? Is it something like swinging? Is it something swine might do? Is there a connection to swinge? Can we make anything of the fact that it sounds like part of housewives?
Well… Yes; In a manner of speaking; Indeed; If you stretch it; and Of course we can, where do you think you are?
One at a time, now. What is swive? It’s a word descended from Old English swifan ‘move in a course, sweep’. This verb is also the source of the noun swivel, something that turns or swings freely from a fixed point, whence also the verb swivel. But swive doesn’t mean ‘swing’ like that. No, it has taken on another meaning. I can think of a similar word that has taken on the same meaning for a second sense: screw. However, while we still use screw in a literal mechanical sense, swive is only ever used (inasmuch as it is used at all) to refer to the act of copulation.
So is swiving like swinging? Well, if you’re a swinger, you may find yourself swiving – other people’s wives or husbands. And, obviously (to address the next question), swine do it, just like birds, bees, and fleas (Ella Fitzgerald tells us that the educated fleas fall in love, but evidence suggests that the uneducated ones at least swive lovelessly).
Is there a connection to swinge? Not an etymological one. Swinge means ‘beat, hit, strike’; there are some slang terms for coitus that avail themselves of this kind of imagery (the verbs boink and bang; the – odious to me – slang expression I’d hit that). Frankly, I’d rather keep the swiving and the swingeing in separate spheres.
Obviously swive is not etymologically related to housewives. But I’m told that there is a “reality TV” franchise, Real Housewives of [fill in name of town here], that sounds like it has quite a focus on swiving – these how-swives certainly know how to swive, at least. And that puts me in mind of a joke. Four women who have just met are talking about themselves. The first says, “I’m a YUPpie – you know, Young Urban Professional.” The second says “We’re DINKs – you know, Double Income, No Kids.” The third giggles and says, “I’m a DILDO – you know, Double Income, Little Dog Owner.” The fourth pours herself more wine and says, “I’m a WIFE – you know, Wash, Iron, F—, Et cetera.”*
*Apologies for the censored word, but I know some of my readers would be unduly distracted by the sight of it. Also: In real life, wife comes from Old English wif, ‘woman’, and is not derived from an acronym. Just in case there was any question.