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A phallic symbol (a. k. a. "lingam") is any cylindrical object that, by any stretch of the imagination, may be construed as representing a penis, whether flaccid or erect. One of the most famous of such symbols was the cigar that Sigmund Freud, psychoanalinguist and popluarizer of the "phallic stage" of male adolescent development, during which boys discover that they are different than girls and envy the opposite sex's sleek, "unobtrusive" look, kept always at hand or mouth. Freud was seldom seen without his cigar, which he said, with a wink, was "just a cigar."
The word "phallus" is derived from the Indo-European root bhel-, meaning "swell," which indicates the esteem in which this now much-maligned object was once held, centuries ago. Since then, a naked phallus has come to be considered vulgar except among certain relatively small groups of the population, such as Eldridge Cleaver, Michael Jackson, and some New Guinea tribesmen who wear them as party hats.
Because the exhibition of a phallus is considered gauche, even in a scientific or an artistic context, it is often disguised, as it were. Typical disguises in which the offensive and offending phallus has appeared include:
- Cigar (see above)
- Gun (usually a pistol, but sometimes a bazooka, depending on the size of the artist's ego)
Some historians and critics of culture contend that the phallus may have had religious significance as a fertility symbol. For example, a swami declares that "When you look at the Linga, your mind is at once elevated and you begin to think of the Lord."
Likewise, a phallic cross of four phalli and four testicles in a chewy golden center was worn as a necklace by men of high station who had no taste, possibly as a Christian fertility symbol.
However, most scholars believe that it appeared in ancient art mostly because most of the artists of anitiquity were males, and men just like to show off their penises. The fondness of these exhibitionistic artists also explains why, when represented as an "art object," the phallus was often depicted as being of huge proportions.
When ancient Greek men, most of whom were homosexual misogynists, discovered that women also like the penis, they fashioned phalli (plural of "phallus"), complete with artificial testicles, out of leather, jade, ivory, and semi-precious stones (hence the term "family jewels") and called them "dildos," meaning "godemiche." They had hoped, in this manner, to pacify the women without actually having to have sex with them.
The phallus has also inspired artists to create sculptures and paintings of it.
Phalli equipped with testicles can stand alone and, for this reason, are sometimes used as bowling pins.
Some phallic symbols are shaped like women’s lipstick containers.
Sometimes, a phallus is included as part of a snowman, to differentiate it from the snow eunuch.