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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

14 March 2007

Back on the Euphemism Express


The last time we discussed euphemisms, we were specifically addressing historical names for the male member. They were varied and many, suggesting that men of every era have enjoyed discussing their bits and pieces.

But Kalen and I participated in a discussion of a certain female part over on Smart Bitches a few months ago and the results were quite different! A reader was complaining that she was going to lose it if she read the word nubbin in a historical romance one more time. Now nubbin is not my favorite word for clitoris, by far. In fact, I don’t even like nub because it reminds me of nubbin which sounds like a child’s nickname to me. "Hey there, little nubbin! Aren’t you getting big?" I also personally don’t like button, because I picture the hero clicking it over and over again in a vain attempt to turn it on, which is just unfortunate. Still, I don’t resent a writer for using those words, because the truth is, euphemisms for clitoris are hard to come by.

Why? Well, that is just too sad to contemplate. *sigh*

Regardless, there aren’t many options, but if you’re writing hot historical romance there’s really no way around using a euphemism. The heroine, virgin or widow, simply isn’t going to know the correct word for it unless she has some very specialized occupation. Biologist, maybe, or an artist who specializes in anatomical drawings. Heck, I’d seriously doubt your hero even knows the word, though one hopes he’s aware of the object in question.

So we see the same words used over and over again, which is enough to push anyone’s buttons. *Victoria clears her throat very loudly* Speaking of. . . Here are all the historical euphemisms for clitoris I could find:

button
bud
love bud
dot
boy in the boat
little man in the boat
little ploughman
little shame tongue (!)
pearl
peeping sentinel


Ha! Some of those are great! Anyway, nub and nubbin aren’t there because I didn’t find them in my Sexual Slang book (Alan Richter, PhD). Little shame tongue! Love it! Those Germans are crazy.

I kind of like pearl; I’ve never used that one. Usually I describe something like "a little bundle of nerves" or "hard bud". But I do feel this lack of a good term is a problem for those of us who write details. Does anyone out there have a solution? At least with men, you can just say c*&k and be straightforward about it if you like! (And I do.)

So writers, if you get this detailed in your books, how do you work around this? (And that wasn’t even supposed to be a dirty joke, it just happened.) Have you had a heroine who'd read an early version of Our Bodies, Our Selves? Readers, have you noticed these euphemisms and is there one that grates on your nerves when you see it?

14 Comments:

Blogger Kalen Hughes said...

Oh, Vikki, how I love thee. Let me count the ways. LOL! Period ways of describing the clit (1960s abbreviation) are few and far between, and most of them are a little too “twee” for me. And don’t get me started on the ones for vulva (quim? *shudder* makes me think of something gelatinous. cunny? fluffy bunnies anyone? yoni? *roll eyes* that one was ruined for me by growing up on a commune, and I doubt anyone outside of India knew it anyway).

Now I’m curious to see what I’ve used (oh the horror of discovery!) . . .

9:00 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

I rather like cunny, as used by my pal and partner in crime Jane Lockwood (well, Jane Lockwood's her erotica name). I also rather like tickler, which she and Colette Gale both use in manuscripts of theirs I've been reading. And btw, strangely -- or maybe it's just some kind of tipping point effect, just yesterday Jane posted about the same topic at www.thespicedteaparty.blogspot.com (my other home in the blogosphere, for writers of historical erotica).

9:03 AM  
Blogger Victoria Dahl said...

Oh my God, how eerie is that!!! I'd better go check out that blog. Guess Pam's all nubbin'd out by now.

9:23 AM  
Blogger The Pink Spyder said...

Little shame tongue is definitely my favorite - it's so....naughty - hehehe. In my head I see a stern nun rapping a young woman on the knuckles and telling her to keep her dirty little shame tongue in her pants!

10:30 AM  
Blogger spyscribbler said...

I HATE naming that bit. Nothing sounds right, and whatever name you choose is going to squick someone or sound like purple prose.

*sigh*

I refer to it often enough, but I have to honestly say that I don't remember what I call it. I think I try to describe it rather than calling it anything.

Personally, I like kitty-cat.

3:32 PM  
Blogger Eva Gale said...

I have used pearl, and like that one. A small hidden gem. :-)

7:52 PM  
Blogger Kathrynn Dennis said...

For historicals, I like pearl and cunny, though the latter word rhymes with funny and it seems hard to take it seriously.

I had a pony named Nubbin. No wonder people laughed. It never occured to me to ask why. Duh.

I am getting pretty used to reading and writing just about any word that could be used to describe various parts of the female anatomy. Doesn't Catherine Coulter say that's an exercise we should all do if we want to write great sex scenes? Write the strange, goofy, offensive, and the purple words over and over until we just get over it.

9:26 PM  
Blogger Elena Greene said...

For me the solution is always based on deep POV. If the heroine wouldn't know a word for her parts (or the hero's for that matter) then I just describe what's going on using words she does know, without necessarily using a specific term. If she has more experience I'd choose the historically accurate words that fit her voice.

But I agree this is a tough one. :)

5:05 AM  
Blogger Victoria Dahl said...

Kathrynn!!! HAHAHAHAHA A pony named Nubbin? You were destined for romance greatness.

And Pink Spyder, I loved your nun scenario. Fits the phrase perfectly!

7:40 AM  
Blogger Sam said...

I am new to posting on this site but I thought this conversation was so funny. It reminded me of an episode of the HBO show Rome when Pullo is giving Verinus advice on how to please his wife. Pullo tells him to pay attention to "this wee little bud" and she will open up like a flower. Verinus then gets angry and asks 'how Pullo knows this of her', to which he replies 'well they all have 'em'. I thought it was very cute. I wonder what the Roman terms for it were...

2:14 PM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Yeah, I loved that scene. Though nothing on Rome that I've seen so far beats the scene where Atia is dolling up this naked boytoy slave to send as a gift to her rival Servillia. When Atia's daughter suggests he might not be the most tactful gift to a woman who's recently lost her lover, Atia goes all aggrieved Miss Manners and insists, with splendid hauteur, that a big penis is always a correct gift.

3:36 PM  
Blogger Victoria Dahl said...

Boy, I am going to miss that show next year!!!! What am I going to do without Deadwood AND Rome?

And I loved both those scenes!

9:17 AM  
Blogger 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.

10:46 AM  
Blogger Lynna Banning said...

I am reminded of the similar problem for description of the male penis...
someone somewhere (writer in a contest ms) termed it:
The purple-helmeted soldier of love!
Now I ask you...

11:02 AM  

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