Excerpts, Good Reads

Scandalously Erotic

A bit that got me laughing out loud, from a New Yorker article on breast milk:

In 1735, when the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus first sorted out the animal kingdom, he classed humans in a category called Quadrupedia: four-footed beasts. Even those of Linnaeus’s contemporaries who conceded the animality of man averred that people have two feet, not four. Ah, but hands are just feet that can grip, Linnaeus countered. This proved unpersuasive. By 1758, in a process that the Stanford historian of science Londa Schiebinger has reconstructed, Linnaeus had abandoned Quadrupedia in favor of a word that he made up, Mammalia: animals with milk-producing nipples. (The Latin root, mamma, meaning breast, teat, or udder, is closely related to the onomatopoeic mama—“mother”—thought to derive from the sound that a baby makes while suckling.) As categories go, “mammal” is an improvement over “quadruped,” especially if you’re thinking about what we have in common with whales. But, for a while, at least, it was deemed scandalously erotic. (Linnaeus’s classification of plants based on their reproductive organs, stamens and pistils, fell prey to a similar attack. “Loathsome harlotry,” one botanist called it.) More important, the name falls something short of capacious: only female mammals lactate; males, strictly speaking, are not mammals.

Personally, I think I would approve of anything that was scandalously erotic. Oh my! Also, my high school biology teacher said that I, a male mammal, could indeed lactate, if given the right hormones. I was glad to hear that I had the capability, just in case . . .

Read More

Categories: Excerpts, Good Reads