Sometimes you have to admire the entrepreneurial spirit, especially when it comes to marketing by leveraging people’s fascination with the celebrity and prurience. Enter the London-based company Crown Jewels, which has released a boxed set of condoms to celebrate the up-coming wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.
Tastefully presented in a royal blue color, the “Condoms of Distinction” are currently marketed on the company’s website with the tag line, “Like a Royal Wedding, intercourse with a loved one is an unforgettable occasion.” The tongue-in-cheek marketing is so wonderfully flowery that it’s well worth quoting at length the company’s take on “The Gentleman’s Condom”:
Founded in London, England’s historic capital, Crown Jewels Condoms of Distinction is the proud purveyor of an exclusive range of heritage love sheaths.
England boasts some of the finest lovemaking in the world, with a tradition of coitus going back generations.
Honouring this history, Crown Jewels Condoms of Distinction is dedicated to furnishing the best English prophylactics to discerning clientele across the world.
Using only the finest lubricatory preparation and with each condom individually wrapped for your pleasure and convenience, Crown Jewels is the first choice of gentlemen and ladies who demand excellence without compromise.
The word condom appears in the 18th century in a poem by John Hamilton, a Scottish . Entitled A Scottish Answer to British Vision, (1706) Hamilton includes the sentence;
Then Sirenge and Condum Come both in Request.
The actual device has been around for much longer that. It has been suggested that the Ancient Egyptians used some sort of sheath but it rather uncertain. There is evidence that upper-class Egyptian women used crocodile dung pessaries and irrigated the
vagina with honey and sodium bicarbonate but no evidence for condoms.
The first recorded evidence for the modern condom comes from Italian anatomist Gabriello Fallopio in 1564. He claimed to have invented a linen sheath that was made to fit the glans and which was worn for protection against syphilis. He wrote that he tried it on 1100 men and not one of them became infected.
The word’s origin is still uncertain. One theory is that it was named after an 18th century doctor called Dr. Condom, but up until now, neither etymologist nor historians have found the elusive clinician.
Zacharias Thundy (1985) favors the word being derived from the Latin morphemes con meaning “with” and doma meaning “roof” or “dome.” Thundy suggests that “the harmless word served as a euphemism – an indirect, inoffensive, and tasteful word – for
the contraceptive device.” He also argues that the use of the concept of a “dome” or “building” that provides protection is semantically appropriate.
Logical as it sounds, it doesn’t quite float my boat because the semantic link seems too tenuous. In her 2007 book, The Humble Little Condom, Aine Collier proposes that the word is a corruption of cumdum, which means “scabbard” or “sheath.” This seems much more semantically close to the function of a condom – certainly more than the “house” metaphor. And the mental effort to imagine a condom as a sheath is not that much.
Another contender is the Italian words guantone, derived from guanto = glove. This also has a certain credibility with the glove metaphor seeming quite logical. There’s also some phonetic similarity, which at least adds to guantone as being a serious contender.
So although the real origin of condom is shrouded in mystery, one thing we do know is that there are many euphemisms for the humble French letter (a UK label). Let’s list a few:
Rubber, raincoat, love glove, jock jacket, willy wrap, flesh fedora, jimmy hat, Trojan®, Durex®, wand wallet, and the burrito pancho!
Oh, and one last tip for English learners: In the UK, an eraser is often called a “rubber.” In the US, a condom is often called a “rubber.” Intriguingly, you have to be very careful on trips between the US and the UK, because walking into a US store and asking for a rubber is likely to end up in an embarrassing situation!
 Youssef, H. (1998). The history of the condom. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 86, 226-228.
 Thundy, Z.P. (1985). The Etymology of Condom. American Speech, 60, 177-179.