Back in January, Ashley Holstrom wrote a short but fun piece that appeared at Book Riot (bookriot.com), “Words Romance Novels Have Ruined For Me”.
She begins, “If you read romance novels, you know how it goes: Words get new sexual meanings, because euphemisms are fun! And then the word is ruined in your brain forever.” Recently reading a non-romance book, she came across the word “mound” and automatically wondered if the book was about to take an unexpected sexy turn. In fact, it only referred to a mound of ants. Nonetheless, the word “mound” had been permanently imbued with a sexual meaning for her (and for many others, I’d bet), so frequently employed euphemistically in romance novels.
Holstrom provides a brief list of words similarly impacted. I’ll bet you could add your own to the list, culled from romance novels, erotica, or just as likely, “PG-Rated” novels awkwardly wrestling with a sex scene. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I can almost feel the author’s reluctance to allow their fingers to type a few obligatory “sexy” words. Hence, euphemisms. Ashley Holstrom’s list includes routine words which any writer will need to employ in purely pragmatic applications and which hopefully can retain their real meaning without being eroticized: Center, core, delicious, electric, enter, explode, growl, length and even wet, for instance.
But her list also includes some words that have been used to death as euphemisms till they may, in fact, have become permanently compromised: Bud, chiseled, erupt, essence, folds, thrust, erupt, moan, nectar, rigid and throbbing, to name a few. She even lists “supple”, a word I’ve always liked, have few enough uses for, but just enjoy the sound and the ‘feel’ of it. But I guess it’s stuck in the ruined list.
Writers will grope (oops, that’s probably one, too) for words they’re comfortable with when the thought of typing the basics like the three big C’s (rhymes with flit, flock and…flunt?) give them the vapors or threaten to make their keyboard melt. And readers can chuckle to themselves when they encounter euphemisms used in cringe-worthy ways. But damn it, it’s a shame when perfectly good everyday words have to be retired, like being tucked away next to the sex toys way at the back of the lingerie drawer.
And I still intend to use supple whenever the hell I want to.
Image: ‘Trans-Siberian Express’ by Norbert Schoerner for Vogue UK, 2005)