Tuesday, March 13, 2007

So...what do you call It?

It's always a source of bafflement to me that whereas men have names (many silly and highly inappropriate) names for their favorite body part, women don't go in for naming what they're proud to own. Why is there no appropriate and pleasing nickname for the clitoris or female genitalia in general? Is it because men either didn't know, were threatened, or chose to ignore it (and yes, I've encountered all three)? Or do we operate from the supreme confidence that we know what it is, where it is, and how it works, so does it need to be defined further?

And if you're writing historicals it's even worse. About a year ago our own Colette asked me for a suggestion and I suggested tickler. I'd been researching online and an etymologist suggested a German word, dating from the early eighteenth century, that translated as such. I thought it was pretty good. Colette's editor then promptly removed them. We'll see if mine make it through (same house, different editor) in Forbidden Shores (Signet Eclipse 2007).

Turning to the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, things go rapidly downhill. You're left with the impression that Georgian gentlemen were just too squeamish to get down there and have a good look. What sort of idiot would nickname a woman's genitalia the cauliflower? Mindboggling, that such ignorance of both the human body and the wonders of the vegetable world should go hand in hand (unless, of course, cauliflowers looked radically different then).

And if you don't want to use the familiar one-syllable terms or you're not into writing about silken velvet dewy crimson sheaths etc., there are some truly horrible euphemisms--womanly passage is one that makes me shudder. How unsexy can you get...it sounds like the sort of place where you'd hang the gardening gloves and knitting.

So what terms do you use? What throws you out of the moment when you're reading?

15 comments:

Nicole said...

Sadly, I don't think I call it anything. Of course, DH doesn't have any cutesy names either. Hmmm.... maybe we should have a bedtime brainstorming session. ;-)

Mina said...

One that always jolts me is his manhood/her womanhood. I don't know about you, but while my "womanly parts" are what technically define me as a female, there's so much more to my womanhood than my genitalia. I try & give men the benefit of the doubt and assume the same for them.

I think the only nickname my S.O. & I ever had for his penis was "lollipop", and that was as a polite euphemism in one conversation rather than a recurring name. No nicknames for me.

PS - Hi! I've been reading but haven't had anything to contribute before. I enjoy this blog very much!

Robin L. Rotham said...

When I was a toddler, I somehow got started calling my girly bits my "bubby." Of course, my mother went along with it and my little sister picked it up, and as I got older, I forgot that I'd invented this term -- I thought EVERYONE called it that.

Imagine my horror when I went to spend the night with my friend Valerie in the second grade, and her little brother was nicknamed Bubby...

Lenora Bell said...

For some reason I can't stand it when authors use the words "nub" or "slick" (as in "he teased her nub," or "he entered her waiting slickness"). I prefer Victorian euphemisms like "charmer" for penis, and "motte" for vagina, (thank you, Lacy for the excellent list!). But you are absolutely right, Jane, there is a decided dearth of creative names for the clitoris. Please let us know if you think of any good ones...

Jane Lockwood said...

One that always jolts me is his manhood/her womanhood. I don't know about you, but while my "womanly parts" are what technically define me as a female, there's so much more to my womanhood than my genitalia. Well said, Mina, and I'm glad we gave you something to talk about--welcome!

And Lenora, talk about pushing my buttons...those who know me have heard the nub rant more often than I care to think about. It is not a nub. The only advantage to using "nub" is, sadly, that everyone knows what it means. It keeps the flow, keeps the story going, but as cliches go it should be take out into the alley and shot.

Rant over (for the moment). I also hate the term pebbled, usually in the same context, but I'll save that for another rant session

Pam Rosenthal said...

by the way and totally coincidentally, there's the same discussion happening over at historyhoydens.blogspot.com, my other home in the blogosphere.

Victoria Dahl said...

I can't believe we're discussing the same thing!!! (Almost. At HistoryHoydens we're talking specifically about the dreaded nubbin.) How funny is that?!

But CAULIFLOWER!?! Methinks someone saw a case of serious genital warts!

As far as historical words for the whole vaginal area, I find the vast majority to be squicky if not down right derogatory. And far, far too many maritime references. Seriously.

Jane Lockwood said...

Hey Victoria,
thanks for coming over to the naughty side.
Talking of pebbled nubs...there's a Sherlock Holmes Story, The Speckled Band, I'm very fond of, where a woman consults Holmes about her sister's mysterious death.
Let me set the scene... It's night time in a sinister gothicky house where wild animals roam the grounds, and a woman bursts out of her bedroom, in absolute terror:
My God, my God, it was the pebbled nub.
Then she drops dead.
Just how I feel.

Victoria Dahl said...

My God, my God, it was the pebbled nub.
Then she drops dead.


Oh. My. God. PAH-hahahahaha!

Eva Gale said...

Is it bad to say that I just decide to like the c word?

It was Lisa Valdez's Passion. C flung hither and yon. At first it flipped me out, but then I got angry at myself for getting mad at a word.

And I tend to not like many victorian names, they tend to sound purple.

Lenora Bell said...

ROFL about the pebbled nub, Jane!!

Kate Pearce said...

blogger ate my post yesterday, so I'll try again...
women's parts.
When I was a little girl, I somehow thought that those important bits were my 'whatsit' Like Robin I was very surprised to discover that wasn't the correct anatomical name for my girl stuff!. I could never bring myself to eat the British cheesy puff snack called Wotsit's either-far too traumatic.

I don't like a lot of the period words for genitals so I tend to put the modern words I am comfortable with instead. That doesn't go down well with everyone but it works for me!

Pam Rosenthal said...

Mina, I totally agree that manhood/womanhood suck, to be blunt about it, as terminology. In fact, I wrote a whole sex scene in Almost a Gentleman, where the heroine uses every word possible except that one, for him. Though at the end he's so befuddled that he falls back, a bit ironically, on the dreaded womanhood. Writing it was big fun.

Sam said...

This is my first time posting here, but I just had to agree. Sometimes the euphemisms they come up with in romance novels are truly silly. Womanhood and nub are truly ridiculous and unsexy. Why do the terms for males all sound triumphant and mighty, and the female terms are either gross sounding or just plain silly? Another thing that makes me cringe terminology-wise in romance novels is when they use 'suckle' instead of 'suck'. I'm not sure if it is just me but that reminds me of nursing... and that is just a little weird in my opinion.

Pam Rosenthal said...

A must-see, so appropriate to this discussion -- I'm on the email list for Susie Bright's blog, and just received this. I haven't even hit all the links on this entry about Betty Dodson and her investigations of the clitoris. But I thought I'd rush over here and share it with all of you.