The morpheme "cuck" appears in several different guises in Ulysses. The book refers repeatedly to cuckolds and the cuckoo bird whose call taunts unhappy spouses. But the "cuckstool" in Bloom's privy brings in a different, scatological significance. This excremental meaning surfaces again, combined with the theme of sexual humiliation, in Bella Cohen's memories of her husband "Cuck Cohen."
In late medieval and early modern Europe, overly talkative
women and dishonest tradesmen were punished by being tied to a
"cuckstool" or "cucking stool" that was either ducked in a
pond or river or set where passersby could jeer and throw
things, as with the similar practice of placing malefactors in
the "pillory" or "stocks." Joyce's commentators have typically
assumed that the use of the word in Calypso refers to
this medieval punishment—an allusion which would suggest that
the representation of Bloom's defecation is designed to humble him. Such echoes may
play a minor role, but the cucking stool has an older,
simpler, and much more obviously relevant meaning: "shitting
The American Heritage Dictionary translates the
Middle English cucking stol as "excreting stool,"
tracing its etymology to the verb cukken, "to
defecate." The dictionary's appendix of Indo-European roots
identifies kakka- or kaka- as the ultimate
source of the Old Norse kūka and the Latin cacāre,
both meaning "to defecate," and the Greek kakos,
"bad." In a personal communication, Vincent Van Wyk notes that
in Dutch-speaking countries the homophonic kakstoel (kak
is pronounced "cuck") still refers to chairs or boxes
containing a chamberpot beneath a hole. Today kakstoels
are used only for toilet-training young children, but in 1904,
when ceramic flush toilets were only beginning to take over
(Thomas Twyford invented them in 1870, and Thomas Crapper
began to patent various designs soon after), such close-stools
would have been found all over Europe.
Van Wyk supposes that, since Bloom thinks of a king in his counting house
just as he sits down, his outhouse may contain such a throne—a
more elegant fixture that a middle-class wife would probably
demand—rather than just a rough board with a hole. Such an
inference must remain speculative, but this meaning of
"cuckstool" makes much better literal sense of the scene
presented in Calypso. It also explains why the word
"cuck" would show up again in Circe surrounded with
mentions of privies, shit, and anality. Bella Cohen,
transformed into the dominating Bello, informs Bloom that she
will bury him in the whorehouse cesspool along with her many
We’ll bury you in our shrubbery jakes where you’ll be dead and dirty with old Cuck Cohen, my stepnephew I married, the bloody old gouty procurator and sodomite with a crick in his neck, and my other ten or eleven husbands, whatever the buggers’ names were, suffocated in the one cesspool. (He explodes in a loud phlegmy laugh.) We’ll manure you, Mr Flower!
If a reader also hears echoes of cuckoldry and its attendant humiliation in the name "Cuck Cohen," so much the better (or worse). Bella/o goes through husbands like toilet paper and disposes of them in a manner suiting their sexual degradation.