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Archive for September 25th, 2011

Foul words is but foul wind, and foul wind is but foul breath, and foul breath is noisome.  –  William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing (V, ii)

One year ago today I published “Pet Peeves”, a column which described five sex-related things that really, really irritate me:

1)  Men yanking the pillow out from under my head during sex
2)  Hitler moustaches (aka landing strips) in women’s pubic grooming
3)  Misuse of the word “vagina”
4)  Vulgarity
5)  Misuse of the word “homophobia”

Readers with analytical minds probably noticed immediately that 60% of these involve words, and that should come as no surprise because at least 99% of my readers have probably noticed that I really love words.  As a writer, words are my tools, and I cherish them and baby them the way a good mechanic cares for the tools of his trade.  And just as a good mechanic always uses the right tool for the job rather than trying to make do with whatever happens to be nearby, so I insist on using the right word; if I can’t find it right away I’ll sometimes sit staring at the monitor thinking, or else typing and deleting a number of different ones until I’m satisfied.  More often I’ll just continue on at full speed, then replace words which don’t quite work to my satisfaction in the proofreading process (fun fact:  I proofread each of my columns at least three times, the third of which is immediately after I publish it).  So by the time most of you read any given column, you can be reasonably sure that any word you see is the exact one I wanted to use, even if it’s one that you have to look up (as some of you are fond of teasing me).

And just as some mechanics are annoyed by seeing others misuse or abuse their tools, so am I annoyed by the misuse or abuse of words.  I don’t mean mere imprecision; my vocabulary is freakishly large and I don’t expect most people to have quite so many words at their disposal for every nuance of meaning.  No, what I’m talking about is the calculated and willful misuse of words by people who know better, which in turn influences others to use those words incorrectly (see my explanation about “homophobia” in last year’s column).  Everyone picks up words and phrases from friends, family, television, books and other sources; I hope I’ve introduced some of my readers to some useful words and phrases (including my own coinages such as “neofeminist” and “lawhead”).  Those who enjoy a particular show or writer or whatever will tend to adopt memorable or catchy examples of that source’s unique vocabulary, and if the source is very popular one eventually starts hearing the new word or phrase all over the place.  Some of these words or phrases are useful (despite never having seen a single episode of Seinfeld, I have caught myself saying “yada yada yada”), while others are merely annoying counter-words (if I never hear “Where’s the beef?” or “Cha-ching!” again it will be too soon).  But some really, really grate on my nerves, usually because I perceive them as vulgar.

It’s important to understand what I mean by “vulgar”; as I said in “Pet Peeves”:

I don’t meant honest discussion of sex; that is not vulgar.  Nor is the use of one-syllable Anglo-Saxon words such as shit, fuck, cunt, cock, etc which were in normal usage until the Norman overlords of England turned their noses up at them due to their peasant origins.  No, when I speak of vulgarity I mean leering, childish, dirty-sounding “euphemisms” for sexual acts and body parts which are actually much more offensive than just using the four-letter words.  Even worse are juvenile masculine attempts at “humor” derived from describing sexual terms in the most disgusting way possible.  As regular readers know I’m the farthest thing in the world from a prude, but this kind of filthy talk makes me want to slap the speaker and then wash his mouth out with soap.

I am absolutely delighted to state that in over 10,000 comments to this blog, I have seen only a tiny number of words or phrases I would deem vulgar; so few, in fact, that up to now I’ve completely ignored them.  But recently, my refined sensibilities have been repeatedly jarred by the use of certain vulgar phrases which apparently originated on men’s rights websites; what makes these phrases particularly odious to me is that they trigger two of my pet peeves simultaneously, because they are vulgar permutations of the word “vagina”.

esophagusWhen I was a lass, one rarely heard the word “vagina” outside of a sex-ed lesson or gynecologist’s office; in everyday speech we used “pussy” (or other terms like “cunt”, “twat” or “coochie”) to mean either the vagina or vulva.  But that started to change in the past decade; feminists (possibly due to the influence of the play The Vagina Monologues) started to use the word colloquially (and confusingly) to mean either “vagina” or “vulva”, which is rather like everyone suddenly deciding to use the medical term “esophagus” in place of common words like “mouth”, “tongue”, “lips”, “throat” and even “windpipe”.  Once women in the general population started doing this men followed suit, and then the term even seeped into non-anatomical slang uses (such as a gutless man being called a “vagina” rather than a “pussy”).  So it’s absolutely no surprise that the once-sterile term has now begun to sound vulgar, particularly when used in such ugly constructions as “mangina” (a male feminist or lap dog) and “gina tingles” (the entire female sexual experience reduced to a mere physical sensation).  And since (as detailed above) I find this sort of vulgarity deeply revolting (you don’t know how hard it was for me to type those terms), from here on out I’m going to replace them wherever I see them in comments.  Please, by all means use “vagina” to mean “vagina”, but let’s not have any more of these vulgar, quasi-misogynistic, “cute” distortions, OK?  I’m not upset with those of you who’ve used them in the past, nor am I trying to insult you or make you feel bad; every person is different and you may not see those terms as icky or off-putting, which is exactly why I’ve written this post.  I just wanted to let everyone know how I feel in the gentlest, nicest way possible.

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