The Startling Realization About The Famous ‘Honk If You’re Horny’ Bumper Sticker

Honk Top

Car culture has given the greater culture a lot of important things: metaphors about grinding gears, tire swings, lyrical inspiration for Meatloaf, the achingly beautiful mystery of the Cars movie series, and so much more. There are also aspects of car culture that only serve to baffle and confuse human culture, cultural automotive artifacts that somehow remain part of the collective consciousness without providing anything beneficial or worthwhile. One such artifact is the infamous “Honk if You’re Horny” bumper sticker, which for some reason has been weighing heavily on my mind, so I’m going to exorcise it here, with apologies in advance. I discussed this in depth with my wife, and she agreed there’s something important here, so let’s just get through this.

[┴p- ¡ʎʞsuᴉɥɔɹo┴ ‘noʎ uɯɐp ˙uɹnʇǝɹ I ǝɯᴉʇ ǝɥʇ ʎq sǝɥsɐ pǝɹɹɐɥɔ ʇnq ƃuᴉɥʇou ǝq llᴉʍ uɐᴉdoʇn∀ ǝɥ┴ ǝqʎɐɯ ʇɐɥʇ uɹǝɔuoɔ ʎɯ ǝʇɐɔᴉunɯɯoɔ oʇ puɐ ‘sᴉ ǝlɔᴉʇɹɐ sᴉɥʇ pɹnsqɐ ʍoɥ ʇsnɾ ʇno ʇuᴉod oʇ ǝɯᴉʇ sᴉɥʇ ǝʞɐʇ oʇ pɐɥ I ʇnq ‘uoᴉʇdǝɔǝɹ llǝɔ ǝlʇʇᴉl ʎɹǝʌ ɥʇᴉʍ ɐᴉlɐɹʇsn∀ lɐɹnɹ uᴉ uɹɐq ɐ uᴉ ɯ,I ˙ʎɔɐɹ┴ pᴉʌɐp sᴉ sᴉɥ┴ :ǝʇoN s,ɹoʇᴉpƎ]

Granted, you don’t see these bumper stickers out in the wild that much anymore, at least not to the degree they were seen in their mid-’70s heyday, but somehow this bumper sticker is still part of the cultural landscape. It was referenced in The Simpsons even:

Simpsons

What really makes this reference so good is the cast of the movie: Pauly Shore and Faye Dunaway. Why has cruel reality kept this magical pairing away from us?

More recently, in 2021, the Netflix sketch comedy show I Think You Should Leave referenced the bumper sticker, and I think this sketch starts to capture the inherent madness of the bumper sticker itself:

Like it or not, this ridiculous bumper sticker is well-embedded into our culture. And, if you give this sticker any sort of thought, its inherent madness becomes painfully clear: Just what is the desired result of this bumper sticker? The driver with the sticker seems to be interested in the level of sexual arousal of the people driving around them, to the point that the sticker specifically requests that the driver be alerted, via sounding one’s car horn, if one has a level of sexual arousal significant enough to be considered if not medically, at least socially, horny.

What always confused me was what is the Honk if You’re Horny stickered-car-driver going to do with this information? Wave, and jot an entry in their notebook? If they’re feeling horny as well, are they going to attempt to communicate with the other car to try to negotiate some sort of sexual encounter? That’s a tricky thing to do, car-to-car, but I’m sure it’s possible. Is it a means of helping the driver to assess who may be so horny that their driving could be impaired? From all the horniness, you see.

It’s a weird thing, because it’s the exact same thing as walking around in a crowded, public space and yelling “Hello everyone! I’m curious to know who is currently sexually aroused! Please call out to me if this is a condition you’re currently experiencing! Thank you!”

For some reason, I tried re-imagining the sticker as if Rene Descartes said it, but I don’t think the Cartesian version works any better, really:

Descarteshorny

Now, none of this is the bombshell I promised in the headline. Well, let’s be honest here: overpromised. But I do have a realization that, somehow, never occurred to me before: This bumper sticker is simply based on wordplay.

Yes, simple, silly wordplay. I’m guessing a lot of you knew this, but from what I found online, a lot of people were like me, blissfully ignorant of the fact that the whole point of the stupid thing is that horns are things that honk, so if you’re horny – as in, possessing qualities like a horn – then the reasonable thing for you to do would be to honk, the essential act of hornhood.

Or goosehood, but so far I’ve yet to see a Honk if You’re Goosey bumper sticker.

The reason the goose-based sticker doesn’t exist, despite a goose’s equal claim on the act of honking, is that the word “goose” is not also a slang term for something dirty in the same way “horny” is. And this got me thinking as well: How the hell did the word “horny” come to mean being sexually aroused?

As much as I want to make my etymology/entymology joke again, I won’t, even though it physically hurts not to. Instead, I’ll reveal to you what the etymological history of “horny” seems to be, according to famed Nixon speechwriter and lexicographer William Safire:

First, to the roots. Horn can be traced to the Latin cornu. The proto-Germanic horna bloomed in Old English, in “Beowulf,” around the year 725. (This scholarly material is being larded in to reassure nervous editors.) The original meaning referred to the hard protuberances growing from the head of ungulate mammals or mythic creatures like the satyr, a bestial being combining a goat (undeservedly vilified as a lecherous beast) and a human.

Now to the point. A horn is hard; it is shaft-shaped; since the 15th century, it has been used as a symbol for the male’s erect sex organ. “No horn could be stiffer,” John Cleland wrote in “Fanny Hill” in 1749; earlier, Shakespeare used the term horn-mad in “Much Ado About Nothing” and other plays to mean both “lecherous” and “cuckolded.” The nose “horn” of the rhinoceros has long been believed to possess aphrodisiac qualities, which led to the endangerment of the species.

“Hornie is an 18th-century Scottish term for ‘devil,’ ” reports Alan Richter, author of the 1993 Dictionary of Sexual Slang, “which itself is another old term for penis, dating back to Boccaccio. Robert Burns refers to auld hornie, meaning the devil, and old horny is also a 19th-century term for penis. But plain old horny, meaning ‘sexually aroused,’ only makes its debut at the end of the 19th century, originally applied exclusively to males.” Henry Miller, in his 1949 “Sexus,” turned it into an equal-opportunity word with “Her thick, gurgling voice saying . . . [ raunchy bit deleted ] ‘I’m horny.’ “

 

So, most simply, the word “horny” seems to have found the use that we know it best for today because of an animal horn’s superficial similarity to an engorged, erect penis. And, it seems we may have noted literary horndog Henry Miller to thank for the gender-inclusivity of the word, too.

What still bothers me is the fact that the wordplay of “Honk if You’re Horny” is convoluted in that it requires the use of a synonym as well: The “horn” that inspired the use of the slang term “horny” is an animal horn, not a musical instrument horn, which, generally, does not have the shape of a penis, engorged or otherwise.

If you do happen to have a penis that resembles a musical instrument horn like, say, a bugle, I’d encourage you to seek medical attention as soon as you’re able.

Shofar

Maybe I’m being a bit unfair by saying it’s just a synonym-based connection, because the origin of “horn” for a musical instrument does come directly from an animal’s horn, since animal horns were used as some of the earliest musical horns, a tradition perhaps best remembered today by the Shofar, the ram’s horn we Jews blow during the High Holy Days to wake everyone up in the back rows.

Okay, so, let’s recap here: The famous bumper sticker that reads “Honk if You’re Horny” is based on the wordplay of the meaning of the word “horn,” something that can honk, like a car horn, and also, when forced into adjectival form via the addition of a “y” at the end, suggests a slang term that refers to sexual arousal, a term that itself was derived from the similarities of an animal horn to an erect phallus, the animal horn lending its name to the honking musical instrument via the use of literal animal horns as the earliest form of musical horn.

Are we all clear now? I hope so. Too bad it’s still an idiotic bumper sticker.

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77 Responses

  1. I’ve only put one bumper sticker on any of the cars I’ve owned. It came free with an album I bought.
    It just said: “ “Fuck birds in the bushes”
    I don’t think it meant what people seemed to think it meant.
    Anyway.. Bumper stickers are all silly.

    1. The WORST bumper stickers are political ones. I get irrationally upset when I see a sticker after the election is concluded. Whether or not your candidate won, the sticker needs to be off the day after election day!

  2. walking around in a crowded, public space and yelling “Hello everyone! I’m curious to know who is currently sexually aroused! Please call out to me if this is a condition you’re currently experiencing! Thank you!”

    The 1970s in a nutshell

  3. I’m thinking this could be a round-about pubic service announcement. If we steer away from the obvious auto-related pun and instead go with the present-day assumed meaning of “horny” as existing in a sexually aroused state, then “honk if your horny” may simply be asking the driver to keep one hand on the horn, with it implied that the other remain on the wheel. That’s both hands on the steering mechanism instead of down at the speed shop looking for the nitrous button.

  4. Au contraire, monsieu Tracy, these maniacal ramblings and musings are half the reason this is the best automotive website around.

    Anyone can chew up and spit out a press release.

    This, this is what we like, nay, love.

  5. “Hello everyone! I’m curious to know who is currently sexually aroused! Please call out to me if this is a condition you’re currently experiencing! Thank you!”

    Stop stealing my pick up lines!

  6. Waiting to hear Torch’s take on the ol’ standard bearer from the southern states which usually adorned the back bumper of an IROC-Z (next to a confederate flag sticker – which, in 2022 is decidedly un-woke) that proclaimed “Gas, grass or ass… nobody rides for free”

    The modern variant of that sticker which seems to adorn many vehicles in my state of Indiana these days is the stick figure family parody but instead of cartoonish looking people, it’s a set of various sizes of assault rifles and some terribly unclever slogan such as “no one messes with my stick figure family” or something to that effect.

    If we really wanted to go retro, we should be able to order the Toyota Tacoma with a factory “YO” embossed in large bold letters on the back of the tailgate.

  7. “I discussed this in depth with my wife, and she agreed there’s something important here”
    I’m just picturing Jason’s wife now:
    “Uh-huh. Uh-huh. Yep, yep. Sure thing, I totally get it. Hey honey, why don’t you go write a blog about this and share it will all your little car friends? I’m sure they will be just as excited about it as I am.”
    Takes big pull off the bourbon bottle stashed behind the bookcase.

  8. Earlier this summer I saw an attractive middle aged woman, whom I suspect could have been a mother, wearing a t-shirt that had the phrase “I’d Hike That!” on it…

    I found the shirt cleaver and (clearly) memorable

    Now if only there was a term for an attractive middle aged woman whom also might be a mother, hmmm

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