It has just occured to me that we English call condoms “French Letters” and the French call them “capotes anglaises”. ‘Capote’ means ‘hood’ or even ‘bonnet’, which makes me imagine a willy wearing a little rubber Bo Peep bonnet, tied on with ribbons and all. So, French Letter, Capote Anglaise – why is everyone so desperate to lump the blame on the other nation? In my opinion it’s a marvellous invention – I thought they’d all be racing to snap up responsability for this clever little rubber sheath. So where did condoms actually come from? I wikipedia-ed ‘condom’ and discovered that there is evidence of them existing before the fifteenth century in Asia, China and Japan, but the earliest uncontested description of condom use is Italian Gabriele Fallopio’s treatise on syphilis. He describes linen sheaths soaked in a chemical solution and allowed to dry before use. The cloths were sized to cover the glans (that’s head, helmet or end-of-bell to you) of the penis, and were held on with a ribbon. Which brings us back to Bo Peep.
The term condom first appears in the early 18th century but its etymology is unknown, or at least, disputed. In England, the popular belief is that the invention and naming of the condom came to be attributed to one “Dr. Condom” or “Earl of Condom”, but there is no proof that he ever existed. Just the tabloids making it up again then. In France there exists a town called Condom and the land in front of the town’s signpost is suffering from serious soil erosion following years of Brits stopping their cars and getting out to stand in front of the sign while their holiday partner takes a hilarious photo. However, Condom is in fact famous for being a resting place for weary pilgrims on their way to St-Jacques-de-Compostelle. In 1319 a hospital was built to tend to the weariest of the pilgrims, those whose water gourd had a leak or who’d forgotten to put sun factor in their rucksack. The founder of the hospital? … Cardinal Teste. I’m not joking. I love it when a plan comes together.