When was the first time a well-known word or phrase was used in print?
FirstMention.com explores the history and origins of famous people and places, and of popular phrases, companies,
brand names, products and ideas, along with familiar words and sayings.
We used to refer, almost delicately, to a woman’s decolletage, a word not much heard these days.
It’s been replaced by a blunter, and more physical term: cleavage.
Cleavage, of course, has been around for centuries, as a rending apart of something. Miners cleave rocks; philosophers cleave mind and body. Adam cleaved Eve (but oddly, in an entirely opposite meaning).
But what of the history of cleavage with regards to bosoms? When did cleavage come to be associated with breasts (and even a few other body parts as well)? The meaning is so prominent these days that we hesitate to use the word in any other context.
You can thank Hollywood. Or more particularly, Hollywoods’ own censors.
The movie industry created the Motion Picture Production Code in the 1930’s to lay out the standards of what was and wasn’t permissible for the delicate eyes and ears (and souls, one presumes) of the movie audiences of the day. The rules were often clear (“Complete nudity is never permitted”), but they also found themselves in need of some terms of art for discussing what would be deemed appropriate.
Thus was born the concept of cleavage. It even had a formal definition of sorts, as can be seen in this FirstMention in the headline of a Time Magazine article of August 5, 1946, titled Cleavage and the Code.
Cleavage and the Code
…Wicked Lady, a 1945 picture starring Margaret Lockwood, James Mason and Patricia Roc, was a big moneymaker in England. But the U.S. will have to wait to see it. Low-cut Restoration costumes worn by the Misses Lockwood and Roc display too much “cleavage” (Johnston Office trade term for the shadowed depression dividing an actress’ bosom into two distinct sections). The British, who have always considered bare legs more sexy than half-bare breasts, are resentfully reshooting several costly scenes.
Time magazine August 5, 1946
The language in Time Magazine must have been shockingly blunt for its day. The following year, the term cleavage was still being introduced to readers in a most gingerly fashion, as can be seen from this 1947 Washington Post article.
One of the Wicked Ladies of the film did show a fair amount of cleavage, apparently as she was awaiting the guillotine.
But enough about cleavage, breasts, bosoms, decolletage and plunging necklines. What I really want to know is: what sort of ads will pulled up by these particular keywords????