Ribaldry is humorous entertainment that ranges from bordering on indelicacy to vulgar. It is a third, and somewhat neglected, genre of sexual entertainment. It is often confused with pornography and erotica. It is also referred to as "bawdiness", "gaminess" or "bawdry".

Unlike either pornography or erotica, which play sexual intercourse or sexual fetishes "straight", ribaldry aims at humor. Sexual situations and titillation are presented in ribald material more for the purpose of poking fun at the foibles and weaknesses that manifest themselves in human sexuality, rather than to present sexual stimulation either excitingly or artistically. Also, ribaldry may use sex as a metaphor to illustrate some non-sexual concern, in which case ribaldry may verge on the territory of satire.

Like any humour, ribaldry may be read as conventional or subversive. Ribaldry typically depends on a shared background of sexual conventions and values, and its comedy generally depends on seeing those conventions broken. Depending on their attitude, viewers can perceive this either as poking fun on the poor souls who suffer the consequences of breaking the taboos, or as flouting the taboos themselves.

The ritual taboo-breaking that is a usual counterpart of ribaldry underlies its controversial nature and explains why ribaldry is frequently a subject of censorship. Ribaldry, whose usual aim is "not" "merely" to be sexually stimulating, often does address larger concerns than mere sexual appetite. However, being presented in the form of comedy, these larger concerns seem to censors to be un-serious. Moreover, the presence of satirical content in ribaldry tends to arouse the wrath of authorities, who may overlook more explicit sexual entertainments in order to prosecute comedians whom they perceive as attacking conventions they wish to maintain.


An example of an ongoing (approx. 400 years) tension between censorship and ribaldry can be seen in the continuing story of the De Brevitate Vitae, a ribald song which, in many European and UK-influenced universities, is both a student beer-drinking song and an anthem sung by official university choirs at public graduation ceremonies. The private and public versions of the song contain vastly different words.

Ribaldry has likely been around for the whole history of the human race, and is present to some degree in every culture. Works like Aristophanes' "Lysistrata", the "Menaechmi" by Plautus, the "Cena Trimalchionis" by Petronius, and the "Metamorphoses" or "The Golden Ass" of Apuleius are ribald classics from ancient Europe. Geoffrey Chaucer's "The Miller's Tale" from his "Canterbury Tales" is a classic medieval example. François Rabelais showed himself to be a master of ribaldry (technically called grotesque body) in his "Gargantua". "The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman" by Laurence Sterne and "The Lady's Dressing Room" by Jonathan Swift. Mark Twain's long-suppressed "1601" certainly falls in this category.

More recent works like "Candy", "Barbarella", "L'Infermiera", the comedic works of Russ Meyer, and Little Annie Fanny are probably better classified as ribaldry than as either pornography or erotica.

Bawdy song

A Bawdy song is a humorous song which emphasis the physical song of sexual relationships. Historically these songs tend to be confined to groups of young males, either as students or in an environment where alcohol is flowing freely. An early collection was "Wit and Mirth, or Pills to Purge Melancholy" published between 1698 and 1720. Sailor's songs tend to quite frank about the exploitative nature of the relationship between men and women. There are many examples of folk songs in which a man encounters a woman in the countryside. This is followed by a short conversation, and then intercourse. Neither side demonstrates any shame or regret. If the woman becomes pregnant, the man goes back to sea. Rugby songs are often bawdy. Examples of bawdy folk songs are: "Seventeen Come Sunday" and "The Ballad of Eskimo Nell". In 1892 "The Scottish Students Song Book" (ed by John Stuart Blackie) was published, containing 200 songs. Many were saucy. In modern times Hash House Harriers have taken on the role of tradition-bearers for this kind of song.

ee also

* Grotesque body
* Ruth Wallis
* Rugby song
* Drinking song

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Ribaldry — Rib ald*ry, n. [OE. ribaldrie, ribaudrie, OF. ribalderie, ribauderie.] The talk of a ribald; low, vulgar language; indecency; obscenity; lewdness; now chiefly applied to indecent language, but formerly, as by Chaucer, also to indecent acts or… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • ribaldry — index obscenity Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 …   Law dictionary

  • ribaldry — 14c., from O.Fr. rebauderie, from ribalt (see RIBALD (Cf. ribald)) …   Etymology dictionary

  • ribaldry — [rib′əldrē] n. [ME ribawdrye < OFr ribauderie: see RIBALD & ERY] ribald language or humor …   English World dictionary

  • ribaldry — noun (plural ries) Date: 14th century 1. a ribald quality or element 2. a. ribald language or humor b. an instance of ribald language or humor …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • ribaldry — /rib euhl dree/; spelling pron. /ruy beuhl dree/, n. 1. ribald character, as of language; scurrility. 2. ribald speech. [1300 50; ME ribaudrie < OF. See RIBALD, RY] * * * …   Universalium

  • ribaldry — noun Joking or humorous language done in a vulgar or lewd fashion …   Wiktionary

  • ribaldry — Synonyms and related words: Rabelaisianism, X rated movie, bad language, bawdiness, bawdry, billingsgate, blue language, blue movie, coarseness, colorful language, crassness, crudeness, crudity, cursing, cussing, dirt, dirtiness, dirty language,… …   Moby Thesaurus

  • ribaldry — I (Roget s IV) n. Syn. pornography, vulgarity, smuttiness, obscenity; see humor 1 , indecency 2 . II (Roget s Thesaurus II) noun Something that is offensive to accepted standards of decency: bawdry, dirt, filth, obscenity, profanity, scatology,… …   English dictionary for students

  • ribaldry — rib|ald|ry [ˈrıbəldri] n [U] ribald remarks or jokes …   Dictionary of contemporary English

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