A Note on Euphemisms in My New-Adult, Erotic Novel

“Double entendre intended.”


Photo courtesy of Stephen Coles

To: Sandra <Editor_Sandra@crumpetpublishing.com>
From: Anne <pistil234@gmail.com>
Re: “penis”

My Dear Editor,

Thanks for your feedback on my new-adult novel. I agree that the overall tone should be Fifty Shades of Grey meets Ulysses (and sometimes, The Notebook).

However, I have some responses (see below) to the euphemism conundrum:

1. You take issue with the heroine’s reference to her lover’s penis as “him” (i.e. the sentence on page 210: “He pulled me back on top and shifted until I could clearly feel him through his skinny cords”).

I agree that I’m not entirely happy with this word choice, but I’ve rejected all other possibilities, for reasons that I have listed below.

a. “Penis”: Too clinical (this character has no medical training).

b. “Member”: Too old-fashioned (and, by the way, “member” of what? A tennis club?)

c. “Willie” (as in the bard himself), “Handle”, “Spear,” and “Weapon” are likely derived from Shakespeare, and thus, are too pretentious.

d. “Phallus”: Too academic and “Please-stop-by-my-office-hours-so-I-can-close-the-door-and- deconstruct-your-pants.”
e. “Peter”: I veto all penis-related baby names outright. Let’s just let little Peter continue to wipe his nose on his palm and then lick the aforementioned palm.

f. “What about ‘dick’?” you asked. But the connotations are too negative, i.e. “He’s such a dick.”

g. “Rod”: No.



Coitus is not taking place in the back of a corvette whose hood has been painted with a giant golden eagle. (Actually, as you might recall, coitus in this scene is taking place in the back room of the library, on a pile of damaged Thomas Pynchon novels, and it involves a lot of book-tape, used as both a binding agent and waxing strip. However, I did take your note that the books should be open paperbacks instead of stacked hardbacks. Even acts of sadomasochism should have a base-line of comfort.)

h. “Thing”: Never. (It conjures up the old Swamp Thing poster, featuring the title character, dripping with green slime as he emerges from the depths.) (Double entendre intended.)

i. “Stiffy”: I already used this one on page 702 to refer to a drink: my heroine says, “I sure could use a stiffy.” (Again, double entendre intended.)

j. “Schlong”: Nothing with sch- (as in, “Penis, sch-menis.”). It trivializes the sex act.

k. “Cock”: (-a-doddle-do). I just can’t do it. Furthermore, it’s too porn-y.

l. As for the euphemisms that rely on phallic imagery, i.e. “snake”, “trouser snake”, “bottle rocket”, “rocket-pop”, et. al., well, they are frankly silly.

Thus, I settled on “him” as in “I could feel him.” Vague at best. But I hope you understand.

This brings me to another concern:

2. You worry that, as an unanticipated consequence of this action with her lover, Tristan, the heroine becomes what you call a “size queen,” and thus unlikeable. However, in her defense, if men can be “leg-men” or “ass-men” or simply obsessed with breast-size, then why shouldn’t penis-size factor into the list of qualities for which a heterosexual woman searches in a romantic partner? (Of course this should be accompanied by at least some of the following items: intelligence, a generally good appearance, kindness, sense of humor, etc. etc. “Loves reading and walks on the beach. Has a pretty large [him].”)

Speaking of male genitalia, this brings up one final word-choice issue, and I’d love your advice on it.

3. This is regarding the scene on page 508, in which our heroine is arguing with her lover Olivia over who was supposed to bring the nipple clamps. Since my heroine is a feminist, in order to avoid saying the more male-centric phrase “That takes a lot of balls,” I am considering that she should say “That takes a lot of clit.” But this substitution doesn’t ring true to me. Size doesn’t necessarily matter in terms of the clitoris’s ability to feel pleasure, or in terms of a woman’s fertility. And so, to say, for example, that “She has a ten-inch clit” doesn’t have the same gravitas as “He’s got huge cojones” or “He’s got a ten-inch penis” (although a ten-inch clitoris would be quite something to behold) . In any case, trying to find another phrase is mind-boggling – what part of the female anatomy would be the equivalent?

a. What about “That takes a lot of tits”? Not quite the same, is it? Moreover, it implies that big-chested women are more powerful (and, as a B-cup, I disagree).

b. A friend of mine used to say “Suck my left tit” instead of “Suck my dick.” It’s a nice attempt, but it conjures up the whole breast-milk-drinking-fetish and the related black market, etc. etc. (However, I will admit that writing this paragraph just turned me on. I’ll keep working on it).

c. “Lick me” is an interesting insult, but it insinuates that doing so would not be pleasant (as does “suck my dick.” Why does the latter work? Is it the element of subjugation?).

And so, I am back to basics. I must reinvent language, as Shakespeare did. No easy task.

Speaking of which:

4. I’m so glad that you like my invented insult “You flaccid worm” and its implication of Tristan’s impotency. I wanted it to be a strong put-down, since our heroine has just found out he’s leaving her, with only an incurable case of oral-gonorrhea to remember him by.

Let me know what you think! I’ll get the revisions to you as swiftly as possible, dear Editor. I’m also thinking you should send my manuscript to Ryan Gosling’s agent and get an adaptation in the works. That is, if he’ll do full-frontal. Perhaps he will, if he is confident in the overall appearance of his [him].

Thanks so much,

Jen Sullivan Brych has written plays, fiction and journalism for places like The Los Angeles Times, Wired, The Rumpus, sketch comedy group Killing My Lobster, The San Francisco Bay Guardian, and Salon.