Latest 3 Things

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

3 You Know Whats

There are very few verbal devices from adolescence that prove useful in adult life. What’s more, the majority of the strongest tools in our verbal arsenal from childhood, seem to inspire the same sort of head scratching disdain and disbelief that thinking back on our wardrobe from the same times in our lives. There is one, however, that remains and becomes even more useful as we grow older, and that is the euphemism. Once used to avoid the ire and watchful eyes of our parents, guardians and caregivers as we made unavoidable references to our naughtiest bits, they become tools of expressing necessary references to the “adult” in adult life, in places where explicit references simply won’t do. That being said, with our own maturing, often comes the maturing of this brilliant lingual utility - with a few notable exceptions. Outside of their ability to amuse, entertain, and maintain decorum, euphemisms can also embarrass and expose far more about their users than a bald reference ever could have accomplished. And so, for those who hope to keep the secrets that they’re trying to - here are 3 you know whats that you should know better than to use:

1. Eating It Up. It was a food-based reference to genitalia that inspired this piece, and it seems only fair it should lead off this parade of discomfiture. It’s unclear how referring to one’s private parts as food items, somehow reduces the prurient nature of the subject, but the practice persists, nonetheless. After all, discussion of edible items does little to quell the appetite - no matter the particular hunger involved. What’s more, a little informal polling amongst my friends revealed that there’s little in the way of references that provide a more foolproof guarantee that the offending anatomy won’t be ending up in anyone’s mouth soon. I’ve heard everything from cookies and sweets, to veggies and chicken, and far too many references to produce (bananas, melons, etc.). At best, these are uncomfortably trite and at worst, they’re downright unappetizing. When it comes to euphemisms, it’s best to remember not to play with your food.

2. Child’s Play. Every parent goes through countless uncomfortable moments when they must teach their children about the sordid details of their growing bodies while still balancing their ongoing instruction in decorum and good manners. Out of this paradox grows a collection of nonsensical euphemisms that are so benign as to be heard on primetime network programming, and sound more like fictional characters in a children’s book than human sexual organs. Seriously, can’t you just imagine a father reading a bedtime story to his children about the misadventures of Hoo-Hoo Dilly, and her lovable sidekick, Winky? It’s debatable whether these are really of any use with kids, but it’s not so debatable as to whether they are o.k. for adults to use. Unless you have children and are speaking directly to them, referring to any genitalia using make believe words makes it a strong possibility that you’ll be having a make believe relationship in the near future.

3. A Rose as Sweet. Names are hard enough to come up with for each other. Add in the stress of appropriate and snappy nicknames, pseudonyms for security purposes, and the occasional stage name for promotion and you’ve got a full blown anxiety attack on your hands - just to meet one new person. Which makes it all the more inexplicable as to why anyone would give a proper name to the parts of their body - especially those parts that seem to have plenty of names already. The “Urban Dictionary” lists over fifty words for ‘penis’ and notes that it is a “small selection of the synonyms.” The same resource lists over a hundred synonyms for ‘vagina’ and more than that for ‘breasts.’ And with all these to choose from - a range from the benign to the truthfully raunchy - some still opt for “Frank”, “Sheila” or “Junior.” I’m sure there’s some sort of detailed psycho-analyzation which is possible once this kind of behavior is discovered - but for my money, I just can’t trust someone who gives anything a name immediately prior to hoping to have it slapped up, flipped or rubbed down.

* * *

In the end, it’s good to have a verbal tool at your disposal which allows for delightfully or necessarily inappropriate conversation at an appropriate time. But just like the rest of the tools in our verbal toolboxes, our skill at using it should grow as we do - from clumsy apprenticeship to ultimate mastery, otherwise you'll end up flailing it about like a toddler with a hammer (with similarly delicate results). A successful euphemism is one that makes the listener wonder, just for a moment, whether or not the hidden meaning of the term you’re using is the one you intended, or if he/she is just being a pervert. That little bit of titillation with a touch of embarrassment can be a strong tool in the hands of the speaker who knows how to wield it. On the other hand, an unsuccessful euphemism immediately calls into question the maturity, intelligence and sophistication of its utterer (not unlike hearing someone recite Miley Cyrus lyrics) and makes everyone wonder if the reason you’re having trouble referring to genitalia is that it’s been a while since you’ve seen any.


Anonymous said...

I'm glad I got to be the inspiration to this piece. You can thank the Subway sandwich maker (with a name tag) for creepin' me out when he asked me about my "veggies". : ) Maybe you could whisper that in my ear later.... ; ) xo

Anonymous said...

The urban dictionary has as many words for penis as Hawaiians have for water.


Jen and Tonic said...

Wait, so you DON'T like it when I call my vagina a sausage wallet?

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