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In a recent review of Thomas Laqueur's Making Sex I read that Renaldus Columbus discovered the clitoris in 1559. I can't make sense of this. Wasn't it right under his nose the whole time, so to speak? Who discovered the penis? And who was Renaldus Columbus, anyway? Any relation to Chris? --Mark Lutton, Malden, Massachusetts

You haven't grasped the totality of this, Mark. Renaldus was born in 1516. That means the guy proclaimed to the world his discovery of the clitoris at age 43. Incidentally, he apparently died that same year. Too bad. They say his wife was about to broach the subject of foreplay.

But seriously. According to Thomas Laqueur, Columbus, aka Matteo Realdo Colombo, was a lecturer in surgery at the University of Padua, Italy. (Whether he was related to Christopher Columbus I don't know.) In 1559 he published a book called De re anatomica in which he described the "seat of woman's delight." He concluded, "Since no one has discerned these projections and their workings, if it is permissible to give names to things discovered by me, it should be called the love or sweetness of Venus."

Columbus's claim was disputed, but not because it was off-the-wall. On the contrary, Columbus's successor at Padua, Gabriel Fallopius (name ring any bells?), said he was the first to discover the clitoris. Kasper Bartholin, a 17th-century Danish anatomist, dismissed both claims, saying the clitoris had been widely known since the second century. By this one assumes he means "known to male anatomists." It seems safe to say women had discovered it a good while before that.

Lest you think such foolishness was confined to the 16th century, recall Freud's bizarre claim that women had two kinds of orgasms, clitoral and vaginal--an idea not fully put to rest until the work of Masters and Johnson. More recently there was the hubbub about the Grafenberg spot, which briefly threatened to replace the clitoris as the seat of female sexual excitement. In some ways we know more about what happened in the universe's first tenth of a second than we do about what goes on in the indefinite interval between "Your place or mine?" and deciding who sleeps on the wet spot.

One thing I have never understood is daylight saving time. Why can't we just put the clock forward a half hour next spring and then never touch it again? --Chris Tittle, Earth

The newspapers have been trying to explain this for years, and still nobody gets it. Time to get serious. People have the idea that the purpose of daylight saving time is to give them more time to frolic on summer evenings. Hah. The real purpose is to conserve energy. You want to line up the hours of daylight with the hours most people are up and about. That way they'll use the lights less and we'll waste less oil, coal, etc.

On December 21 sunrise is around 7:20 AM and sunset around 4:40 PM--business hours. Fine. Problem is, as the day lengthens you get more daylight in both AM and PM, but you need it mostly PM. Rather than try to noodge the clock ahead every day, you bide your time till April. Then bam, you switch to DST, thereby shifting an hour of wasted daylight from morning to evening. When the days start to get shorter again, you shift the hour back. It's a hassle but it's more effective than this half-hour-split-the-difference crap.

Now for questions from the class.

Why do we need to change the clock at all? Why don't we just get up earlier?

Yeah, right. Besides, this is the 20th century. You do what the clock tells you to do. It's easier for the masterminds behind it all to change the clocks than to retrain the populace.

Why are farmers against daylight saving time?

Because they're idiots. They claim DST makes them get up when it's pitch dark. Like hell. Farmers can get up when they want (subject to the OK of the cows, of course). Except on market days, they don't have to be in sync with the rest of us. They just don't feel like resetting the alarm. TFB.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/Slug Signorino.

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