So, Julia Child and the baguettes. One time on “The French Chef,” in order to show how great a difference there is between a hand-made baguette and a mass produced one, Julia simply held up examples of each. The store-bought one flopped over limply, the home-made one stood up straight. The picture is funny enough as a commentary about the phallus, but there is, in addition, an unexpected etymological connection.
I had not realized it until recently, but baguette originally means “a small rod.” It’s a term from architecture and woodworking for a rounded corner molding, as can be seen, for instance, on picture-frames or doorways. The French word derives from the Latin baculum, which also means a rod or staff.
Although a baculum is primarily a walking-stick, it can be used to hit people with. In this sense, it gives rise to the rhetorical/logical term argumentum ad baculum, “an argument to the cudgel,” or more broadly, “the resort to violence.” When Lucy tells Linus, “I’ll give you five good reasons. One, two, three, four, FIVE!”, she is making an argumentum ad baculum.
But more to the point, baculum is also a term found in biology to refer to bone that is found in the penises of most mammals, although not in humans. The baculum of the raccoon is sometimes fashioned into a toothpick, while those of other animals have been turned into money-clips and the like. (You can buy these on eBay, if you’re so inclined) At a Beverly Hills auction in 2007, a 12,000-year-old fossilized walrus baculum (which is called by the Inuit word an oosik) measuring 4 1/2 feet in length sold for $8000. Penis envy, if ever I heard it.