Poon"tang n. (also spelled poon tang, poon-tang; putang, puntang (very rarely), or just poon)

Another of the many naughty words for the female genitalia. Like other such terms, people also frequently use it as a synecdoche for sexual intercourse and females in general. In fact, the Canadian Oxford Dictionary only defines the word as "women" or "intercourse" and doesn't mention the female genitals at all (Barber, 1998). (It also identifies poontanger as Canadian lumberjack slang for the penis...go figure.) Stranger still, Chapman (1995) makes the claim that "ass" and "cunt" are both synonyms for poontang, which suggests that someone out there is a bit confused about the intricacies of the female anatomy.

In my experience, the term refers to female genitals, but in the general sense, not the specific. A pornographic story might say, for example, "she showed me her pussy," but not "she showed me her poontang"; however, a porno mag's claim to have "poontang on every page" is clearly referring to female genitalia, not women or intercourse. (Asian porn stars, however, do occasionally use the word in the specific sense, particularly when they're pretending to be dumb whores who don't speak much English; it's probably because it sounds vaguely Asian in origin.)

Partridge and Beale note that poontang is one of the most mysterious of all taboo words, as its origin and etymology are obscure. Several sources claim that it first appeared somewhere in the 1910s or 1920s (Chapman, 1995; Ayto and Simpson, 1992). Originally, it was an African-American slang term, and was used to refer only to black women and their private parts. Eventually, the term became common among whites in the American South (Wentworth and Flexner, 1960), who presumably picked it up from black communities. (Thomas Wolfe, much to the shock of innocent readers, used the term in his novel Look Homeward, Angel, where one character philosophizes that "a fellow's got to have a little poontang.") Over time, the term became race-neutral, and could be used by anyone from prostitutes to Presidents (on Inauguration Day, JFK is rumored to have said "I guess this means my poon days are over" (Thorne, 1997)).

As for the etymology, many authors speculate that the word derives from putain, the French word for "whore" (Wentworth and Flexner, 1960; Ayto and Simpson, 1992; Chapman, 1995) In particular, Chapman (1995) suggests that it entered the English language via the New Orleans Creole. This explanation seems probable enough given that the term originated in the South. Furthermore, poontang is a plausible corruption of "putain," which in French is pronounced (very approximately) "poot-an."

Partridge and Beale, however, aren't buying this etymology, though they don't explain why. Instead, they propose that poontang is a corruption of Chinese phrases like poong kai and poong tai. They further speculate that the word came from Filipino/Tagalog and entered the language around 1900 (during the Philippine American War, I suppose). I don't know any Chinese and can't vouch for the plausibility of this claim, but I'm told that the connection between Filipino and Chinese is remote at best--some loan words, nothing more. Even if we assume they're right, however, this account doesn't really explain how the term came to refer to black women in particular, or why it started out in the American South. Their alternative explanation, which seems even less plausible, is that it's a Native American term that entered the language via some sort of pidgin.

The shorter version (poon) is listed separately in several dictionaries, but the earliest references don't have anything at all to do with females or their body parts. Apparently, before World War I, the verb poon meant "to prop up (such as the leg of a table) with a wedge," and, by extension, "to be unsteady" (Partridge, 1973). I suppose one could speculate that poon eventually came to mean the wedge itself, and then by analogy the female genitals (because of its triangular shape, which is similar to the pattern of female pubic hair). This hypothesis would explain the "poon," but doesn't account for the "tang," and in any case doesn't really solve anything because the origin of the word poon in this sense is unknown. Meanwhile, Webby claims that poon refers to wood used for the masts of sailing ships. My own suspicion is that it's nothing more than a back-formation that just happens to have other archaic meanings.

Whatever the origins of poontang and its derivatives, it's certainly one of the more bizarre words out there. Unlike other words, which are merely offensive or at best crude, poontang has something of a comical air to it. That doesn't make it polite--you'll still get slapped if you use it at the wrong time--but it does explain why pimps, porn stars, and pubescent boys seem to say it with such relish.


Ayto, J., and Simpson, J. (1992). Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Barber, K. (Ed.) (1998). Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Toronto, Canada: Oxford University Press.

Chapman, R. L. (1989). Thesaurus of American Slang. New York, NY: Harper and Row.

Chapman, R. L. (1995). Dictionary of American Slang. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Partridge, E. (1979). Routledge Dictionary of Historical Slang. London, UK: Routledge.

Partridge, E., and Beale, P. (1984). Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English. New York, NY: Macmillan.

Wentworth, H., and Flexner, S. B. (1960). Dictionary of American Slang (2nd ed.) New York, NY: Thomas Crowell.

Thorne, T. (1997). Dictionary of Contemporary Slang. London, UK: Bloomsbury.

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