I like “vagina” as much as the next person, and I never stop marveling over the fact that etymologically “vagina” is a kissing cousin of “vanilla,” one of my favorite flavors. But the honor of the v-word euphemism actually belongs to “virgin.”
Old f___’s like myself may recall that in 1953 censors working at the Hollywood’s Motion Picture Production Code office tried to pressure Otto Preminger into removing “virgin” from his filmed version of The Mood Is Blue. The effort not only failed but unintentionally created a s___-load of publicity that made Preminger’s movie a hit.
As a fan of such honorable words as “vagina” and “virginity” I probably shouldn’t worry about uproars like the one Applebome described in The Times. Almost always, the people wishing to sanitize our language end up as freespeech allies, popularizing the very expressions that they hate, fear, and yet know so well. Talk about s______ing oneself.
If you ask, "Aren’t there any words that should be tabooed?” consider the etymology of "taboo," from the Tongan word ta-bu, meaning “sacred.” Why would we want to ban anything in the sacred category?
Meanwhile, for those of you who want to know more about the linguistic connection between "vagina" and "vanilla," here's the scoop: The vanilla bean resides in a pod that seventeenth century Spanish explorers thought looked like a small sheath. Spanish, for “little sheaf” is "vanilla," a diminutive based ultimately on the Latin" vagina," a word that back then had no anatomical meaning. "Vagina" was simply the name of a object into which you could stick your sword.
It wasn’t until a few dacades later that the sheath-like structure of the anatomical vagina led doctors to use "vagina" in its modern sense.