Lolita (term)

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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.[1] 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 girls considered sexually precocious.[2]

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, appears to be younger than the age of consent, or child exploitation material depicting the sexual abuse of children.[3]

Etymology and related terms[edit]


Nubile is a flattering term for youthful and sexy young women who are deemed attractive and "suitable for marriage". Nubile stems from a Latin term which means "marriageable" and is solely used in relation to women.[4]


A nymphet is a sexually precocious, pubescent girl.[5]

The first recorded use of the term "nymphet", defined by The Century Dictionary as "a little nymph",[6] 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,[7] 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.'[7]

Eric Lemay of Northwestern University writes:

The human child, the one noticed by non-nymphomaniacs, answers to other names, "Lo," "Lola," "Dolly," and, least alluring of all, "Dolores." "But in my arms," asserts Humbert, "she was always Lolita." And in his arms or out, "Lolita" was always the creation of Humbert's craven self... The Siren-like Humbert sings a song of himself, to himself, and titles that self and that song "Lolita." ... To transform Dolores into Lolita, to seal this sad adolescent within his musky self, Humbert must deny her her humanity.[8]


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.[7]

...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.[7]

The term faunlet is also used in Nabokov's 1962 novel Pale Fire.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nabokov, Vladimir. Lolita. New York: Vintage International, 1955. ISBN 0-679-72316-1.
  2. ^ "Lolita" in Merriam-Webster Dictionary
  3. ^ "Protecting our children from abuse and neglect", American Psychological Association. Retrieved 20 March 2016
  4. ^ "nubile",
  5. ^ "nymphet" in Merriam-Webster Dictionary
  6. ^ Search The Century Dictionary at
  7. ^ a b c d Nabokov, Vladimir (1991). Alfred Appel, ed. The Annotated Lolita. Random House. ISBN 0679727299. 
  8. ^ Lemay, Eric. "Dolorous Laughter". p. 2. Retrieved 2 October 2012. 

External links[edit]