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Lolita was the nickname of one of the principal characters in Vladimir Nabokov's novel Lolita. Lolita's actual name was Dolores, with whom the narrator, Humbert Humbert, develops a sexual obsession. In the book itself, "Lolita" is specifically Humbert's nickname for Dolores. Nevertheless, "Lolita" and "loli" has come to be used as a general reference to a seductive or sexually attractive young woman.
In the marketing of pornography, lolita is used to refer to a young girl, frequently one who has only recently reached the age of consent, or appears to be younger than the age of consent.
Etymology & Related Terms
A nymphet is a sexually attractive girl, or young woman. The first recorded use of the term "nymphet", defined by The Century Dictionary as "a little nymph", was by Drayton in Poly-Olbion I. xi. Argt. 171 (1612): "Of the nymphets sporting there In Wyrrall, and in Delamere."
In Lolita, "nymphet" was used to describe the 9- to 14-year-old girls to whom the protagonist is attracted, the archetypal nymphet being the character of Dolores Haze. Nabokov, in the voice of his narrator Humbert, first describes these nymphets in the following passage:
Now I wish to introduce the following idea. Between the age limits of nine and fourteen there occur maidens who, to certain bewitched travelers, twice or many times older than they, reveal their true nature which is not human, but nymphic (that is, demoniac); and these chosen creatures I propose to designate as 'nymphets.'
It will be marked that I substitute time terms for spatial ones. In fact, I would have the reader see 'nine' and 'fourteen' as the boundaries—the mirrory beaches and rosy rocks—of an enchanted island haunted by those nymphets of mine and surrounded by a vast, misty sea.
For Humbert, a nymphet is in the earliest stages of puberty: "The bud-stage of breast development appears early (10.7 years)." When he meets a streetwalker who claims to be 18, he considers her no longer a nymphet, although her body is still in some ways childlike.
It is believed the English word traces its roots to 1642 in reference to being "marriageable" (as said of a woman) from the French nubile. Its historical roots, though, can be traced still further back to the Latin nubilis, also meaning "marriageable," which is from the stem of nubere which means "take as husband."
The term faunlet, also coined by Nabokov and used by Humbert Humbert, is used to describe the young male counterpart of a nymphet, in the same way that the mythological fauns were the counterpart of the nymphs. The term appears in the novel twice:
When I was a child and she was a child, my little Annabel was no nymphet to me; I was her equal, a faunlet in my own right, on that same enchanted island of time.
...I met the unblinking dark eyes of two strange and beautiful children, faunlet and nymphet, whom their identical flat dark hair and bloodless cheeks proclaimed siblings if not twins.
- Nabokov, Vladimir. Lolita. New York: Vintage International, 1955. ISBN 0-679-72316-1.
- lolita in Merriam-Webster Dictionary
- Search The Century Dictionary at http://www.global-language.com/CENTURY/
- Nabokov, Vladimir (1991). Alfred Appel, ed. The Annotated Lolita. Random House. ISBN 0679727299.
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- merriam-webster dictionary
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- Constructions of Childhood in Art and Media: Sexualized Innocence, Alexandra Wood.
- "Little Deadly Demons: Nymphets, sexuality and a North American girl-child", Dawson, Kellie, American Sexuality Magazine.
- "Lola! Lola! Lola!", by Jascha Kessler in the California Literary Review, March 2007