Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Flying Balls and Stiff Shafts

by Jo Robertson

Warning: The following material may be inappropriate for some readers.

Last night I crawled into bed beside Dr. Big. I was finishing up Deanna Raybourne’s Victorian mystery SILENT IN THE SANCTUARY, and closing in on the denouement, when I heard muttering to the side of me.

I ignored it. Raybourne’s a fabulous author and I did SO want to find out if Nicholas
Brisbane would kiss Lady Julia Gray again, so far the extent of their physical engagement.

More muttering to my right, but now the words began to penetrate my consciousness.

What you say? Flying balls and stiff shafts?

There’s not a romance writer in the world who will fail to identify with my curiosity at the tenor of those words – flying balls and stiff shafts? What other meaning could be attached to them but a bit of naughtiness?

“What are you talking about?” I asked, dragging my eyes from the printed form of Nicholas Brisbane.

Dr. Big waved a giant golf magazine in front of me. “My golf game, what else? A golfer’s most important tools are flying balls – gotta get loft and trajectory, but not too much or the ball will . . .”

At this point my eyes glazed over. “Hmmm,” I murmured noncommitally. I gave up Nicholas Brisbane for THIS?

“And of course the shaft of both the woods and the irons,” intoned Dr. Big, “must be hard, stiff, solid, not too flexible. Otherwise the . . . "

He slanted a sly look at me. “What did you think I meant?”


What did I THINK he meant?
Am I not a romance writer? Obviously, there’s only one answer to that.

The conversation got me to thinking. Would the mind of a normal person (by that, insert – a non-romance writer) flit precisely to the same place as mine did?

That idea led to euphemisms and YES, that’s my topic. We writers talk about purple prose and unrealistic and ridiculous stand-ins for body parts and functions, but what do we really mean? Should we call a spade a spade – er, a shaft a shaft?

Before I was a mother, my delightful nephew Bryan had an accident in which his t
iny penis had a serious confrontation with the toilet seat. Said toilet seat assaulted the poor boy and, honestly, it’s a wonder the kid ever got potty-trained. Three-year-old Bryan raced screaming into the living room where his mother and I were talking. “I hurt my wee-wee tickler,” he bawled.

Wee-wee tickler? Good grief, was my sister actually going to let her child call his penis a wee-wee tickler?

I shuddered.

But I now realize there’s a place for such ridiculous euphemisms. The first time I used the word “penis” in front of my father-in-law, he had an apoplectic fit and stomped out of the room, muttering something about bad language. Hmm, I’d rather thought the word was simply . . . anatomically correct.

The other day my five-year-old granddaughter flashed me a sad little look. “Grammy Jo,” she said, “my vagina hurts.”

“Oh, really?” I tried very hard not to laugh.

She nodded theatrically. “I didn’t wipe the right way,” she confided. “Now I have an infection.”

Her younger brother has his own troubled story to tell. At the tender age of three, he raided his father's nightstand drawer looking for the candy stash. Apparently the little blue pill look
s like . . . candy.

Now a stiff shaft on a three-year old is not a pretty sight. Poor little guy complained about his penis hurting all day. After the poison-control hotline lady stopping laughing, she assured Max’s mother that the sensation would subside in a few hours. I was proud of Max. He never once spoke of shafts or wee-wee ticklers. “Mom, my penis is too big," he said. "It hurts. A lot.”

Fighting the euphemism battle is a difficult task for parents. Even when we use t
he medical terminology for body parts and functions, children are like dirty little sponges. They soak up whatever “potty” word is going around at the moment.

It is an uphill and, I suspect, losing battle.

Wee-wee tickler is beginning to sound better all the time.

What about you? Do you shudder when a romance writer uses a silly, demeaning term for a body part or function? Any funny experiences with your own children? Are you sick of that purple prose or do you prefer the euphemism to the harsh glare of reality?


Amy Andrews said...

That GR is waaaaaayyy to drunk to move today ladies. Bwah ha ha ha ha.

Amy Andrews said...

In my hast to keep him I spelt to wrong - sigh! Too drunk, too drunk.
What can I say, I'm a little intoxicated just from my feathered friend's breath!

Lol Jo - I bet there's lots of euphemisms out there that boys/men have for their penis's. I for one am in your camp - let's call a penis a penis. However not even in the medical line can we be THAT anatomically correct - sigh!

I don't mind so much purple prose in description, it's more if it's used in dialogue. I read a passage one once where the hero said "your milky globes are a feast for my eyes". This was a contemporary romance btw.
Now, I dont know about anyone else but my husband does not talk to me this way about my breasts. He's generally more to the point - great t**ts babe.
So I say keep the dialogue real and I'll usually buy any amount of erect manhoods.

jo robertson said...

Amy, too funny!! The "milky globes" quote reminds me of the sixteenth/seventeenth century poetry that was absolutely loaded with those kinds of descriptions.

Do you think men are more likely to use euphemisms for body parts than women?

jo robertson said...

Oh, BTW, congrats on getting the GR, drunk or no. I've been out of town a few days. Who got him so tipsy? What's been going on in the Lair whilst I was gone??

Christine Wells said...

Amy, you're not pickling that rooster of ours, are you? Yay, he remains in Oz a while longer!

Jo, your grandchildren are going to read that post and weep one day. Had to laugh at their antics, though. I don't really like euphemisms, but in historicals we're a bit hidebound by our heroine's experience in the bedroom and in life or lack thereof. Sometimes it's a real exercise in creativity to describe a lurvv scene from a heroine's POV. Actually, my favourite euphemism was one in Mr. Impossible--the hero called it his Privy Councillor. Priceless!

I have often thought of taking a leaf out of my junk mail folder, though. I get many emails a day with exceedingly creative euphemisms for the male organ. Love stick is a memorable one.

And no, it's not just romance writers. My dh says a very Cockney 'Cor!' When someone makes an unwitting double entendre like that.

Amy Andrews said...

Well it's like this, Christine - if I'm on the wagon until SF then someone around here might as well be enjoying themselves. The GR got real lucky, more vino for him.

Yes Jo - I think men are more likely to have euphemisms for their bits. I dont know too many women who have pet names for their vagina's. I'm sure there's some Freudian logic behind this but I do think it's strange to hear a grown man refer to his genitals as if they are an entirely seperate entity/person.
Although they do seem to have minds of their own....

Christie Kelley said...

Amy, sober that poor guy up! And congrats.

Jo, what a funny post. With two boys and one husband, I hear all kinds of potty talk.

I really wish I could remember the name of a book I read a few years ago by a NYT bestseller. The language had me in stitches for the for couple of chapters. Then the euphemisms became so bad I couldn't finish it. Unfortunately, my brain can't come up with one of them.

Anonymous said...

Jo, you crack me up! Yes, every parent has heard about potties and wee-wees. The other day I was at a business meeting in an unfamiliar office and I asked someone where the potty was. They gave me a very odd look!

Amy, I am definitely worried about the GR. Christine, can you just go over and check on him? ;-)

For myself, I actually don't mind euphemisms. I don't find the anatomically correct terms particularly sexy, to be honest. Can you imagine if, instead of milky globes, you got some bedroom talk about your anatomically correct parts? Snort! I'd give some examples, but this is a family blog! I'd take the milky globes, myself.

It's particularly hard when you're writing erotia--or any explicit love scene--and you can't avoid discussing parts. The romance writers' lament. Can't we come up with a word that sounds as sexy as those parts can be?

Susan Seyfarth said...

Okay, I'm divided. As a romance writer, I shy away from overly flowery euphemisms. I find it knocks people out of the story & makes them think, "She called that a *what* now?"

However, as a mother of small children? Euphemisms are handy indeed. In my family (both the one I grew up in & the one I'm currently raising) we call our girly bits a dinky. I have NO idea why. That's what my mom called it, that's what I found myself saying to my children. In my defense, girly bits are COMPLICATED. Of course I am teaching my kids the specific names for each, well, bit, but the lack of a blanket term that covers the whole territory bothers me.

I may not be doing them any favors by making one up but I also don't think it's doing little girls any favor to teach them that the word v*gina (sorry, trying to avoid dirty spam) refers to the lot of it. They'll end up at the dr one day complaining about their vagina when they really have a bladder infection or something.

As you might have suspected, I have girls. :-) Boy anatomy is markedly less complicated. No reason not to just say p*nis, IMHO.

Just my .02.

Susan Seyfarth said...

p.s. I loved wee wee tickler. :-)

doglady said...

I'm with Kirsten. The technical terms sound so clinical that it jars you out of the moment. I think the euphemisms should fit the scene and the characters. A bit lofty for a real romantic love scene, a bit more crude for assault or revenge or angry sex scenes.

That said. Jo, I fell out of my chair laughing at your post! The entire thing was a riot and just the thing to read before I set out for Wal-Mart Hell!

I've tried to tell you that GR is a lush and a rake! Amy get some hot coffee in that bird! Then he can stagger down the road to Christine's or Anna's so they can assure Kirsten he is okay!

terrio said...

Funny that AA is feeding the spirits to the GR because it sounds like he's going to need AA by the time she's done with him. *g*

Love this blog. I'll never forget when my little brother was about 4 and asked my grandmother what those things he had back there were. Honest to a fault, my grandmother said, "Those are your balls or your nuts." I was 11 and totally shocked.

I have a daughter and recently realized we don't have any cutesy names for it. Just her privates which probably isn't the best way to go. I do love the terms Vajayjay and Hooha. They just crack me up. And are kind of cute.

In reading, whatever works for the type of story and the character in whose POV the scene is works for me. If a repressed young woman in an historical refers to a man's c*ck, I'd never buy it. In an Erotic Romance, if a hero called it his wee wee tickler, I'd probably just stop reading there.

I guess I'm saying context is what matters to me. In the right context, anything can work.

flchen1 said...

Hee! *giggling inappropriately*

I agree with Terrio--context is everything :) I'm teaching my kids the correct terms, but also use euphemisms, depending on where we are/who we're with... And Susan, we've got a girl and boys, and agree--boy parts are much easier to accurately name.

In what I read, I don't tend to like too much flowery purple description, but I also prefer that the language fit the characters and time/setting.

Donna MacMeans said...

Ah...this is always a problem - especially for an historical writer which is why I keep my copy of The Little Book of Filth handy. That thing has all the euphemisms for body parts (and activities of same) that a writer could want.

But setting, time-period, and age-appropriateness is everything. For example, one of the reasons your post was so funny, Jo (and it was hilarious *g*) is that a little child was using adult words. Just as, as Kirsten discovered, an adult using a child's term is viewed as being rather sad. Either is jarring.

I hosted a dinner party/pot luck once where all the dishes were supposed to be aphrodisiacs. THe woman bringing appetizers brought wieners and nuts. Isn't it amazing how many euphemisms for a man's "love stick" represent food?

terrio said...

Donna - at least she didn't bring weiners and schnitzel (sp?). LOL!

I forgot to mention, my HS gym teacher (female) would tell us to keep our legs closed so the boys couldn't see our Hawaiian Islands. She was very odd.

Cassondra said...


Great blog Jo! And welcome back to the lair!

I hate this difficulty. Hate. It.

It's funny when we talk about it, but when you're trying to write it and make it work, it's hell.

I don't like euphemisms. But I don't like the real anatomical word in there either. When I read it, it jars me. I think maybe it's because we don't hear that word used in everyday conversation out in the world. We hear it only in clinical settings as a rule. Which made it funny when in the movie ET (I think--long time ago now) one of the kids called his brother "P*nis Breath."

But I have to say, that P*nis is just not a pretty word. I saw a study once where they'd taken a survey and found that the most beautiful English phrase was "cellar door." Not its context of course. This was just the beauty of the words strung together as sounds.

As words go, all on its on, I think p*nis is right up there with puss and purse. Ick. Vagina doesn't fare much better.

I hate seeing silly euphemisms in love scenes. And I hate seeing the clinical terminology. But you can only write "around" the actual body part for so long. Sometimes you need to name the darn thing.

I can't name one author who has never jarred me with this usage. Sometimes it works great and other times...well...not so much. Even the authors I love consistently don't nail it (oh brother you can't use ANY euphemism without going there can you?) 100 percent of the time.

Kirsten, I don't have kids, but I have cats. Once at a friend's home I stepped away from a group of people where we'd all been speaking of our cats and said to the host, "Excuse me, can you point me to the litter box?" and you should have seen the look I got.

Cassondra said...

Oh, Susan, I agree sometimes you need a term for the whole darn area.

My college roommate referred to it as her "personal area," which I thought was okay and appropriate and yet not any sort of silly avoidance.

We'd been to our first Basic Equitation class together, and the following day she said, "My personal area is really sore." They'd made us ride for three hours bareback at a trot. Ouch.

Nancy said...

Amy, congratulations on the GR! Take good care of him, now. :-)

Jo, I prefer the actual, real, anatomical name, though I prefer the e-word for status to the p-word for anatomy. In historicals, I don't mind euphemisms if they're simple.

We had many euphemisms, and not just for body parts, when my son was little. For a while, we spelled. Then he learned to do the same, and that game was up.

jo robertson said...

Christine, Privy Councillor -- too hilarious!

I do think men are prone to give names to parts more than women. Of course, their preoccupation with said parts often seems out of proportion to the actual . . . uh item.

jo robertson said...

Kirsten, it's really funny when a sophisticated woman blurts out a childish euphemism. I was attending a meeting once (all women, fortunately) and I plopped down too hard on hard chair and blurted out, "Ow I hurt my cookie!" As department cooridnator, I was supposed to be far more dignified and I was mortified! I blame it on my daughters.

jo robertson said...

Christine, I don't know the Cockney "Cor." Is it too inappropriate for the Lair?

And I apologize if the post invites unsavory comments. Not my intention, but the topic is one we writers face a lot, keeping the balance between sensual and just downright silly.

jo robertson said...

Yes, Kristen, it's tricky finding the right words. Correct terminology often is too clinical. But frank talk can turn women readers off. As I said, it's a delicate balance.

BTW, Christine, Anna, and Donna do this very well in their historicals. Do you think it's easier to find the sensual-but-not-silly words in historicals than contemporaries?

jo robertson said...

Susan, I do think contemporary parents want their children to use anatomically correct language. I've never heard dinky -- that's really funny.

My niece's family migrated from England several years ago and her daughter calls panties "knickers" still. But when she went to school and mentioned knickers, her little friends told her she was using a bad word -- the other N word apparently.

While the incident is quite funny, the situation could be quite serious. Her mother had to explain a word to her she'd never heard and would rather not know at a tender age. And to me that N word if far more offensive than any sexual language.

jo robertson said...

Does anyone remember the Mr. Rogers show where he sang about girls being "fancy" on the inside and boys being "fancy" on the outside?

Too cute.

sarah said...

Can't... stop... laughing... it hurts...

but I have to say... in books...

I HATE the c-word. I hate it with a passion. My husband was even shocked when I pointed it out to him in a book I was reading.

Bush is the other I don't like to see.

they just seem very gutter to me.

jo robertson said...

Doglady said, "A bit lofty for a real romantic love scene, a bit more crude for assault or revenge or angry sex scenes."

Perfectly said, Pam, it's really about the genre and intent of the writer just like any diction we use.

jo robertson said...

True, Terrio, I wonder if our great-grandmothers had terms we'd be surprised they used among themselves for their private bits?

Remember the scene from "Gray's Anatomy" that gave birth to vajayjay (at least I think it did) where Bailey's delivering her child and George is helping and she tells him to stop looking at her v.? That was hilarious.

jo robertson said...

Terrio, I would've died if I'd heard my grandmother or mom use "balls" or "nuts," but OTOH "the family jewels" is kinda cute.

jo robertson said...

And, Terrio, if ANY MALE over 5 years said "wee-wee tickler," I'd throw up!

BTW, my sister just told me that her son got the WWT term from MY mother. Go figure!

Flchen1, I know a married couple, who shall be unnamed, who called their "parts" George and Gertrude. I have no idea where those handles came from but it was nice code for leaving a party and going home for some alone couple time.

jo robertson said...

Hey, Donna, I want that Little Book of Filth! Where'd you get it?

OMG, Cassondra, funny you should mention the movie ET because I've had a running argument with my children about that line. I always thought he said "peanuts breath," but the kids say "p*nis breath."

So, damn! I hate to be wrong.

jo robertson said...

I agree, Cassondra. I think the meter of a word or phrase and the consonants versus vowels make them lyrical or dissonant to our ears. V**gina and p*nis are definitely not pleasant sounding which is probably one of the reasons writers turn to purple prose.

jo robertson said...

Okay, Nancy, it could be lack of sleep (I'm still on east coast time and there're grittiness in my eyes and cotton in my brain), but what's the e-word?

Is that a dumb question?

jo robertson said...

Oh, Sarah, I am so with you on that. "Bush" sounds like an out-of-control, over-grown tropical place. Ewwww!

I hate the female c-word, but not the male, probably because the former seems to denigrate women.

BTW, I don't like names that relegate women to body parts either.

Helen said...

Congrats on the GR Amy
Great post Jo
you had me laughing I have read so many books that I can't remember all the names that they have been called but they fit in with the written context.
As for children I don't recall any specific names that we have called them but has everyone noticed that as soon as you change a boys nappy his hands are there straight away but girls don't do that it must be a male thing.
Have Fun

limecello said...

I don't mind purple prose but for some body parts... yes it is too much for me. I'll lean back in disbelief, reread it, and think "yup - that's actually what is written there."
A term for penis floating around out there that isn't PP but I don't like is "prick." I've never heard a guy use that term in his life [when referring to his or anyone else's anatomy] - and I've always [and pretty much only] associated that word with "an obnoxious or contemptible person."

jo robertson said...

Helen, I just love the word "nappy"! And yes, the little guys know right where to go, and I think that habit stays with them a long, long time LOL.

Limecello, I totally forgot about that "P" word, probably because it's more associated with a jerk than a body part. Dick is another one. My daughter's FIL makes people call him Richard because he hates the association.

Anna Campbell said...

Hey, Amy, good on you with the chook! What's your secret?

Jo, great post! Actually I love a lot of euphemisms, they're so colorful - and I don't just mean in terms of his purple-helmeted rod of lurve either!

Terri, am I being dense here, but why Hawaiian Islands? Because it's south? I mean, I get the map of Tasmania, but Hawaii? Or is it something to do with a grass skirt? Hmm, better stop there, I think!

Amy Andrews said...

Never fear, the GR is sober again this morning even if his crow is a little wonky.

Okay so why is knickers a word you'd rather your child not know? Or did you mean she didn't want her child to know the "n" word?
We say knickers here all the time. In fact I prefer it to panties. Panties to me seems to be something a peadophile would say. I had a copy editor change one of my knickers to panties once - I think my ed knows my preferences in that department now *g*

I'm with you Jo - what is the "e" word. Racking my brains to work out that one.

And I think everyone's right. Half the problem with anatomical terms is they're so ugly! I mean wouldn't it be better if they were called "stamen" and "petal" or something else a little "pretty". Or would it not matter - would whatever word we gave them just have an "ick" connnotation because for centuries these things just weren't openly talked about?

I suppose a euphemism I don't mind is "fanny" but I know in the US it's a term for bottom where we use it here for the "front bottom" *g*

I guess as a nurse I hear anatomical words all the time so hearing anything else seems a little absurd to me. But in my romance novels I really don't want to read "and then he put his p into her v". Personally I tend to write "and then he entered her" or thrust into her or plunged get my drift. Hopefully the reader does too.

I know as I bring up my kids it is important to me that we use anatomical terms (guess that's the nurse too)but unfortunately I am ony one half of this couple and my son calls his bit a willy.

Has anyone heard Monty Pythons The Penis Song? On my - that is a funny ditty on the male obsession with their mini me's.

I think the cockney "cor" is just the way to say it, Jo. Correct me if I'm wrong Christine?

Loucinda McGary aka Aunty Cindy said...

Welcome home, Jo-mama! And what a post for your homecoming! I was ROFS (rolling on floor snorking) over it all morning. And I do believe the "e" word Nancy was referring to was erection, a word I don't find jarring or silly like so many others.

Donna, I also want a copy of your lil "Book of Filth!" How is it I've never run across one before?

Congrats on the GR, Amy. Better ween him off the wine since I have a feeling he's gonna be traveling soon.


Amy Andrews said...

Ah erection!
Yep, don't mind that one at all.

Esri Rose said...

Funny post!

I don't know. It just depends on the writer. Elizabeth Hoyt does euphemisms well. It's a fine line, and I can read sex scenes by different authors where the actual terminology isn't that different, but one makes me hot and the other makes me hoot. It's really tricky.

Anna Sugden said...

Luckily, I put my drink down when I saw your title, Jo.


Hmmm I prefer euphemisms in books to blunt reality - especially the 'c' words. But, I don't like purple prose.

BTW somewhere on YouTube there should be a really funny song where the comedian/comedienne goes through all the different euphemisms for p*nis. Never let it be said we Brits aren't creative with our language!

Donna MacMeans said...

Hey Guys - I got my Little book of Filth on I think it's out of print and it's not so little *g*. I think it's about 3 inches thick, but measures about 5 x 7 inches.

jo robertson said...

Anna, I'd love to see hear that song. You Brits are hilarious!

LOL, Esri. Hooting when you want to be getting hot could be fatal in a love scene.

jo robertson said...

Ah, yes, AC, duh! shoulda known you'd know the "e" word. I'm with Amy and you -- I rather like that one too!

Amy, what about wanker? And I had no idea about fanny -- yes, here in the U.S. that means your bum, bottom, or butt.

jo robertson said...

Thanks, everyone, for chiming in today. The experience has been eye-opening!

jo robertson said...

Oh, Amy, forgot to answer your "knickers" question.

When the little five-year-old with the British accent said "knickers," it came out sounding (to the little southern girl) like n*ggers. THAT'S the ugly word her mom didn't want in her lexicon.

Amy Andrews said...

LOL Jo - what about wanker?

It rarely gets used here in its truest sense. More as an insult to anyone behaving like a jerk.

jo robertson said...

I was thinking how I loved the double usage of "wanker," Amy. It's definitely a British word, but sounds more polite than "d*ck-head."