Cracking the sex code of John Maynard Keynes

As you might imagine, John Maynard Keynes was careful with his numbers. For his entire life, the economist tabulated all manner of personal information: His golf scores, his expenses, the number of steps on each house of his street. But apparently Keynes was also pretty promiscuous, and so — to the delight of historians — after each sexual conquest, he’d snap on the green accountant’s visor and tally another mark in his ledger.

Now, Keynes kept two sex diaries. While neither one includes exact names, the first one is pretty easy to decode: Keynes used initials and nicknames, which makes it pretty easy to deduce those partners.

But the second diary is in code. From 1906 to 1915, he listed a quarterly total of sexual acts that are designated only by three letters — C, A, and W. Whatever do they mean?

Well, Keynes was gay, so historians — and those in his social circle who knew him — apparently agree that A and W are pretty easy to figure out: They’re the first letters of two sex acts, the second one which is a Britishism. (No, I’m not going to specifically name those sex acts, because this is a family blog! I’ve gotten email from people who tell me their elementary-school children read Collision Detection, which both pleases and scares the living crap out of me. And so I should also point out that the article to which I link below is TOTALLY NOT SAFE FOR WORK, nor for YOUR ELEMENTARY-SCHOOL KIDS, and probably also not FOR CERTAIN ADULTS. Ahem.)

Anyway, the point is, while most everyone can figure out A and W, historians have never agreed upon what, precisely, C stands for. There are plenty of sex acts that start with C, of course. (Man, this blog item just keeps getting filthier and filthier, if only by inference, doesn’t it?) But nobody has ever agreed on which one Keynes meant.

But in a recent article in More Intelligent Life, the novelist Evan Zimroth argues that he has finally cracked the code. He points out some of the possible sex acts that begin with C are extremely casual — first-base material — while others are much more hot and nasty. This leads him to the following logic, in a story that, I’ll point out again, is JUST TOTALLY NOT SAFE FOR WORK OR KIDS:

My … guess is that this coded list has nothing to do with the specifically named lovers recorded on the first list but instead records only anonymous sex, and that therefore C, with its high tally, is something that happened easily, often and surreptitiously. Why keep a lengthy, specific tally, indexed by activity, if you’re doing “it” every day anyway with the same person? If most days you have a bit A and you don’t have to resort to W, why bother to note it? Not interesting.

It makes more sense, as I see it, to keep a list of how often and under what circumstances you could possibly have sex, and then how often you scored. Seeking anonymous sex would be sort of like investing in the stock market (which Keynes did obsessively, trading daily before he even got out of bed): invest often, hedge and maximise your chances, hope for the best.

I’ll leave you to read the story and figure out his conclusion.

(Thanks to Arts and Letters Daily for this one!)

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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