October 03, 2007
Channeling William Safire (Sort Of)
I was going to write a column about the problems I had last summer with my swimming pool, but it struck me as incredibly crass that I would complain about such a luxury in the face of the horrible tragedies families are enduring because of the war.
Suffice it to say we started calling our swimming pool "The Love Canal" at one point during that summer.
Though my wife didn't know it, "Love Canal" was a term often used in pornographic books long before the community of the same name in upstate New York became a toxic catch phrase.
I know, because as a young teenager and aspiring writer I used to buy those types of books, not so much because of the pornographic verbiage – after all, a picture is worth a thousand words, and nowhere more than when it comes to pornography. Put another way, give me a dirty magazine over a dirty book any day.
The books, which you could usually pick up for a quarter or so around Times Square, struck me as incredibly inventive because basically, they were all variations of the same story, which was to come up with some flimsy plot that is punctuated by frequent sexual encounters.
The characters' "names" were the first clue of what was to come. I remember many of them: B.J. Often, C. My Cherry, Dee Cup, May B. Swallow, Bob N. Head, I.M. Hornblower, Hubie Wet, Sir Lance Alot and so on.
The real skill was describing the act of penetration differently every time. This was where the "love canal" phrase was originally coined, along with such time-honored classics as "honey pit," "steaming vat," and the elegant "creamy canyon."
The thing entering the love canal was never called a penis. Instead, the writers came up with names like "shaft of steel," "burning rod," "love stick," "progesterone plunger," and my personal fave, "bulging member."
One interesting sidebar was the evolution of penis into a single name, like one might refer to a friend, for example my Johnson, Dick, Rod, Mojo, Mr. Big, and for some unfortunate men, Shrimpboy.
How inventive were these porn writers? According to the University of Winnipeg English assistant professor Mark Morton, who wrote The Lover's Tongue: A Merry Romp Through the Language of Love and Sex, there are at least 1300 words that can be used in lieu of "penis."
In one chapter, aptly entitled "The Long and Short of It," Morton listed all of them, including the entire "One-eye Willy" series, "Senator Packwood" and "Tallywhacker."
It all proves that over time words take on new meanings, as often chronicled by William Safire, the erudite columnist of the New York Times Magazine.
One trick I often use is to take words that don't mean anything dirty at all and arrange them so they sound like they do. For example, uvula, masticate, and dongle are perfectly normal words, but when you put them together you can make something that sounds truly filthy, like "He masticated with his dongle in her uvula." In other words, it sounded like he futlocked her. And I'm not even going to get into "Hairy Woodpecker."
Aaron Enright came up with a list of science-related words and phrases that sound dirty, including closed stacks, coextensive subject entry, dewey, and subject heading.
While doing research for a column I wrote (yes, these things require research) I discovered surfer lingo is rife with words that sound dirty but aren't. Only in Surferville can you use words like schlong or woody and NOT be talking about the male organ.
Other surfer words sound like they should mean something dirty even if they don't: clidro, gremmy, menehunes, shibby are examples of these. ("I wanted to squirt my gremmy all over her clidro but she was in the middle of menehunes.")
There are terms like backside air, butt floss and poo man. My favorite is cable (I'm not making this up) which means "to hang a poo." The clear implication here is that this type of thing happens often enough to warrant a word for it, and that is pretty scary to consider, and reason enough alone to avoid surfers in case they try this maneuver on land.
At this stage of the column you're probably wondering what all this has to do with my swimming pool. You might say I was meandering, I certainly digressed, but fortunately I didn't spank my monkey. I was merely articulating the different meanings of the phrase "love canal," which in the context of my swimming pool meant the water turned into a toxin-filled wasteland around the beginning of August.
This caused me great inconvenience, because I couldn't dip my stick, go under, flip, dunk, stroke, or do laps, and my wife couldn't even get her swive wet.
A good writer can use words a lot of different ways, so profanity is really in the eyes of the reader. Puritans who think something is "dirty" have suppressed their sexuality for so long they are ready to burst, which does not mean explode in orgasmic pleasure. It means to rage about others who have the freedom to treat sex like the normal thing it is.
Just remember, the two men leading our country are a Bush and a Dick.