Published: February 6, 1994
First, to the roots. Horn can be traced to the Latin cornu. The proto-Germanic horna bloomed in Old English, in "Beowulf," around the year 725. (This scholarly material is being larded in to reassure nervous editors.) The original meaning referred to the hard protuberances growing from the head of ungulate mammals or mythic creatures like the satyr, a bestial being combining a goat (undeservedly vilified as a lecherous beast) and a human.
The poet James Russell Lowell, extolling the virtues of hard work, wrote in 1843, "Blessed are the horny hands of toil!" Hard-working fishermen today prize as bait the North American hornyhead chub.
Now to the point. A horn is hard; it is shaft-shaped; since the 15th century, it has been used as a symbol for the male's erect sex organ. "No horn could be stiffer," John Cleland wrote in "Fanny Hill" in 1749; earlier, Shakespeare used the term horn-mad in "Much Ado About Nothing" and other plays to mean both "lecherous" and "cuckolded." The nose "horn" of the rhinoceros has long been believed to possess aphrodisiac qualities, which led to the endangerment of the species.
"Hornie is an 18th-century Scottish term for 'devil,' " reports Alan Richter, author of the 1993 Dictionary of Sexual Slang, "which itself is another old term for penis, dating back to Boccaccio. Robert Burns refers to auld hornie, meaning the devil, and old horny is also a 19th-century term for penis. But plain old horny, meaning 'sexually aroused,' only makes its debut at the end of the 19th century, originally applied exclusively to males." Henry Miller, in his 1949 "Sexus," turned it into an equal-opportunity word with "Her thick, gurgling voice saying . . . [ raunchy bit deleted ] 'I'm horny.' "
That brings us to today: Do we use horny in everyday speech, along with its Scottish synonym randy, to mean "sexually aroused"? Yes; it's common usage, and it has lost much of its taboo.
So to all you American's called Randy, we Scots just think your constantly horny.
William Safire New York Times.