The Jealous Husband, a genre painting by Cornelius Krieghoff depicting a cuckolded husband

A cuckold is the husband of an adulterous wife; the wife of an adulterous husband is a cuckquean. In biology, a cuckold is a male who unwittingly invests parental effort in juveniles who are not genetically his offspring.[1] A husband who is aware of and tolerates his wife's infidelity is sometimes called a wittol or wittold.[2]

History of the term

c. 1815 French satire on cuckoldry, which shows both men and women wearing horns

The word cuckold derives from the cuckoo bird, alluding to its habit of laying its eggs in other birds' nests.[3][4] The association is common in medieval folklore, literature, and iconography.

English usage first appears about 1250 in the medieval debate poem The Owl and the Nightingale. It was characterized as an overtly blunt term in John Lydgate's The Fall of Princes, c. 1440.[5] William Shakespeare's writing often referred to cuckolds, with several of his characters suspecting they had become one.[4]

The word often implies that the husband is deceived; that he is unaware of his wife's unfaithfulness and may not know until the arrival or growth of a child plainly not his (as with cuckoo birds).[4]

The female equivalent cuckquean first appears in English literature in 1562,[6][7] adding a female suffix to the cuck.

A related word, first appearing in 1520, is wittol, which substitutes wit (in the sense of knowing) for the first part of the word, referring to a man aware of and reconciled to his wife's infidelity.[8]


Further information: Cuckservative

An abbreviation of cuckold, the term cuck has been used by the alt-right to attack the masculinity of an opponent. It was originally aimed at other conservatives.[9]

Metaphor and symbolism

Horns and the rut

A flag used in the English Civil War by Horatio Cary referring to the Earl of Essex's notorious marital problems

In Western traditions, cuckolds have sometimes been described as "wearing the horns of a cuckold" or just "wearing the horns". This is an allusion to the mating habits of stags, who forfeit their mates when they are defeated by another male.[10]

In Italy (especially in Southern Italy, where it is a major personal offence), the insult "cornuto" is often accompanied by the sign of the horns. In French, the term is "porter des cornes". In German, the term is "jemandem Hörner aufsetzen", or "Hörner tragen", the husband is "der gehörnte Ehemann".

In Brazil and Portugal, the term used is "corno", meaning exactly "horned". The term is quite offensive, especially for men, and cornos are a common subject of jokes and anecdotes.

Rabelais's Tiers Livers of Gargantua and Pantagruel (1546) portrays a horned fool as a cuckold.[11] In Molière's L'École des femmes (1662), a man named Arnolphe (see below) who mocks cuckolds with the image of the horned buck (becque cornu) becomes one at the end.

Green hat

In Chinese usage, the cuckold (or wittol) is said to be "戴綠帽子" dài lǜmàozi, translated into English as 'wearing the green hat'. The term is an allusion to the sumptuary laws used from the 13th to the 18th centuries that required males in households with prostitutes to wrap their heads in a green scarf (or later a hat).[12]


A saint Arnoul(t), Arnolphe, or Ernoul, possibly Arnold of Soissons, is often cited as the patron saint of cuckolded husbands, hence the name of Molière's character Arnolphe.[13][14]

The Greek hero Actaeon is often associated with cuckoldry, as when he is turned into a stag, he becomes "horned".[15] This is alluded to in Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor, Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy, and others.[16]

Cross-cultural parallels

"The Cuckold Carpenter Under the Bed of his Wife and her Lover" from an 18th-century edition of the Kalīla wa-Dimna

In Islamic cultures, the related term dayouth (Arabic: دَيُّوث) can be used to describe a person who is viewed as apathetic or permissive with regards to unchaste behaviour by female relatives or a spouse, or who lacks the demeanor (ghayrah) of paternalistic protectiveness.[17][18] Variations on the spelling include dayyuth, dayuuth, or dayoos.[19] The term has been criticised for its use as a pejorative while also suggestive of acceptance of vain paternalistic gender roles, stigmatization of sexuality or overprotective intrusive sexual gatekeeping.[20]

Cuckoldry as a fetish

A 15th-century Persian miniature

Unlike the traditional definition of the term, in fetish usage, a cuckold (also known as "cuckolding fetish")[21][22] is complicit in their partner's sexual "infidelity"; the wife who enjoys "cuckolding" her husband is called a "cuckoldress" if the man is more submissive.[23][page needed][24][25][26] The dominant man engaging with the cuckold's partner is called a "bull".[24][27]

If a couple can keep the fantasy in the bedroom, or come to an agreement where being cuckolded in reality does not damage the relationship, they may try it out in reality. This, like other sexual acts, can improve the sexual relationship between partners.[28] However, the primary proponent of the fantasy is almost always the one being humiliated, or the "cuckold": the cuckold convinces his lover to participate in the fantasy for them, though other "cuckolds" may prefer their lover to initiate the situation instead. The fetish fantasy does not work at all if the cuckold is being humiliated against their will.[29]

Psychology regards cuckold fetishism as a variant of masochism, with the cuckold deriving pleasure from being humiliated.[30][31] In his book Masochism and the Self, psychologist Roy Baumeister advanced a Self Theory analysis that cuckolding (or specifically, all masochism) was a form of escaping from self-awareness, at times when self-awareness becomes burdensome, such as with perceived inadequacy. According to this theory, the physical or mental pain from masochism brings attention away from the self, which would be desirable in times of "guilt, anxiety, or insecurity", or at other times when self-awareness is unpleasant.[32]

See also


  1. ^ Steven M. Platek; Todd K. Shackelford, eds. (2006). Female Infidelity and Paternal Uncertainty: Evolutionary Perspectives on Male Anti-Cuckoldry Tactics. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781139458047.
  2. ^ Davidson, Thomas. "Whitlow to Wyvern". Chambers's Twentieth Century Dictionary 1908 – via Wikisource.
  3. ^ "cuckold". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 19 December 2016.
  4. ^ a b c Williams, Janet (4 July 2009). "Cuckolds, horns and other explanations". BBC News. Retrieved 11 February 2013.
  5. ^ Geoffrey Hughes (26 March 2015). An Encyclopedia of Swearing: The Social History of Oaths, Profanity, Foul Language, and Ethnic Slurs in the English-speaking World. Taylor & Francis. pp. 191–. ISBN 978-1-317-47677-1.
  6. ^ Coleman, Julie (1 January 1999). Love, Sex, and Marriage: A Historical Thesaurus. Rodopi. ISBN 9042004339. Retrieved 22 November 2016 – via Google Books.
  7. ^ Williams, Gordon (13 September 2001). A Dictionary of Sexual Language and Imagery in Shakespearean and Stuart Literature: Three Volume Set Volume I A-F Volume II G-P Volume III Q-Z. A&C Black. ISBN 9780485113938. Retrieved 22 November 2016 – via Google Books.
  8. ^ Oxford English Dictionary
  9. ^ Stack, Liam (August 15, 2017). "Alt-Right, Alt-Left, Antifa: A Glossary of Extremist Language". The New York Times.
  10. ^ E. Cobham Brewer 1810–1897. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. 1898.
  11. ^ LaGuardia, David P. (2008). Intertextual Masculinity in French Renaissance Literature. Franham, UK: Ashgate Publishing. p. 133.
  12. ^ Sommer, Matthew Harvey (2002). Sex, Law, and Society in Late Imperial China. Stanford: Stanford University Press. p. 218. ISBN 0-8047-4559-5. Retrieved 2008-07-27.
  13. ^ Brian Joseph Levy (2000). The Comic Text: Patterns and Images in the Old French Fabliaux. Rodopi. ISBN 9042004290.
  14. ^ William Beck (December 1968). "Arnolphe or Monsieur de la Souche?". The French Review. 42 (2): 255. JSTOR 386804.
  15. ^ Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). 2010.
  16. ^ John Stephen Farmer (1903). Slang and Its Analogues Past and Present. Subscribers only. p. 15.
  17. ^ Sallo, Ibrahim Khidhir. "A Sociolinguistic Study of Sex Differences in Mosuli Arabic in Mosul-Iraq."
  18. ^ Shahawi, Majdi Muhammad Ash (2004). Marital Discord - Causes & Cures. Darussalam Publishers.
  19. ^ Semerdjian, Elyse (2012-03-01). "'Because he is so tender and pretty': sexual deviance and heresy in eighteenth-century Aleppo". Social Identities. 18 (2): 175–199. doi:10.1080/13504630.2012.652844. ISSN 1350-4630. S2CID 145004098.
  20. ^ Hamamra, Bilal Tawfiq (2018-04-03). "The Containment of Female Linguistic, Spatial, and Sexual Transgression in Arden of Faversham: A Contemporary Palestinian Reading". Comparative Literature: East & West. 2 (2): 88–100. doi:10.1080/25723618.2018.1546474. ISSN 2572-3618.
  21. ^ Elizabeth Weiss (2017-08-09). "The Cuckolding Fetish Explained: Why Some Men Actually *Want* to Be Cheated On". Marie Claire Magazine. Retrieved 2022-06-27.
  22. ^ Calhoun, Ada (2012-09-14). "You May Call It Cheating, but We Don't". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2022-06-27.
  23. ^ Ley, David (2009). Insatiable Wives: Women Who Stray and the Men Who Love Them. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-1-4422-0031-9.
  24. ^ a b Kort, Joe (13 September 2016). "The Expanding Phenomenon Of Cuckolding: Even Gay Men Are Getting Into It". Huffington Post. Retrieved 19 December 2016.
  25. ^ Harris, Lynn (5 September 2007). "What do you call a female cuckold?". Salon. Retrieved 19 December 2016.
  26. ^ Hyde, Janet Shibley; Oliver, Mary Beth (2000), Travis, Cheryl Brown; White, Jacquelyn W. (eds.), "Gender differences in sexuality: Results from meta-analysis.", Sexuality, society, and feminism., Washington: American Psychological Association, pp. 57–77, doi:10.1037/10345-003, ISBN 978-1-55798-617-7, retrieved 2022-10-22
  27. ^ Lehmiller, Justin J.; Ley, David; Savage, Dan (2018). "The Psychology of Gay Men's Cuckolding Fantasies". Archives of Sexual Behavior. 47 (4): 999–1013. doi:10.1007/s10508-017-1096-0. ISSN 0004-0002. PMID 29285655. S2CID 4722706.
  28. ^ "A consequence of cuckoldry: More (and better) sex?". American Psychological Association. October 2011. Retrieved 2022-10-22.
  29. ^ Klein, Donald C. (1 Dec 1999). "The humiliation dynamic: An overview". The Journal of Primary Prevention. 12 (2): 93–121. doi:10.1007/BF02015214. PMID 24258218. S2CID 43535241.
  30. ^ Rufus, Anneli (July 29, 2010). "Cuckolding: The Sex Fetish for Intellectuals". The Daily Beast. Retrieved November 20, 2021.
  31. ^ Betchen, Stephen J. (November 18, 2014). "Sexually Dominant Women and the Men Who Desire Them, Part II". Magnetic Partners blog post. Psychology Today. Cuckolding can also be mixed with other non-monogamous relationship arrangements with which it has substantial overlap such as swinging, open relationships, and polyamory. Again, it is distinguished from these concepts in that cuckold's thrill in their partner's acts is specifically masochistic
  32. ^ Baumeister, Roy (2014). Masochism and the Self. New York: Psychology Press. ISBN 978-1138876064.