Got a rocket in your pocket. / Keep coolly cool, boy.

– “Cool,” West Side Story (1957), lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

“Is that a pistol in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me?” This quip is universally credited to Mae West, from as early as 1936, and there have been variations: pipe, rod, banana. As a device that emits, a pistol is metaphorically more descriptive than a banana. A man who is sterile is said to be firing blanks.

Arising from the same general shape and location, the rocket metaphor takes the penis beyond sex to other realms of male excitability. The Jets want revenge, and testosterone urges action. Hence the call to be cool (heat being a metaphor for emotion).

The timeliness of Sondheim’s rocket metaphor is noteworthy. The USSR launched Sputnik in 1957, and the rivalry for turf in outer space was on.



Oft with aching bones,

I marched the goose-step,

Cursing Serjeant Jones.

– D. L. Richardson, Sonnets (1825), cited in OED

A goose is more of a waddler than a walker, but when a gander wants to intimidate a rival by making himself tall, his strut looks somewhat like the stiff-legged marching style you see in newsreels. The term first appeared in 1806, when several countries adopted a leg-swinging exercise to improve soldiers’ balance. The related style of marching became associated with Prussian militarism.

Rows of soldiers goose-stepping behind other soldiers in tight formation probably had nothing to do with a subsequent use of goose – as a verb, meaning to surprise someone with a jab between the buttocks – but at least one soldier made the connection, as quoted in the Oxford English Dictionary:

As soon as…I had learned the goose-step, I had learned to be goosed. – F. Griffin (1881)

Photo: Karl Stull

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