Like many people, I used to think that traditional curse words signaled a lack of creative vocabulary. I’ve since changed my mind, though. Substitute words like “fricking,” “fudging,” or “eff” can be cute in certain contexts, but seem out of place in an adult novel, or even coming from the mouth of an adult. If you’re going to substitute a word that means the exact same thing, why not just say the real one?
But when talking about anything sex-related, we’ll do anything to avoid using the real words, from describing body parts to specific acts. Thanks to TV sitcoms and the advent of “That’s What She Said” jokes, even normal, non-sexual words like “vibrate” and “penetrate” are ruined for me, because I’ve heard them used in sexual contexts one too many times. Then I went and married the king of That’s What She Said jokes. Even my most innocuous statements get twisted into punch lines, which he finds hilarious, which means I have to try extra hard to twist his words around to get even.
One of our best “That’s what she said” moments happened at the Denver zoo. We walk past a Merry-Go-Round and I ask if he wants to go on it with me, because we’re such big kids. He responds, “Only if you ride the jaguar.” Without even thinking about it, I said “I’ll ride whatever you want,” and he had to sit down on the nearest bench because he was laughing so hard, his stomach hurt.
We are in our late twenties, and one of us turns thirty next month. Are we getting too old for this kind of middle school humor?
I have to laugh and say no. In this regard, we are only getting more creative in our attempts to one-up the other. How can I, as a lover of words, complain about that? Even if I find myself inappropriately cracking up at a friend who, staring at her pizza at a restaurant, says she doesn’t think six inches is big enough, the literary part of me can’t help thinking, The versatility of words is just so fascinating! But then I have to text my husband, Wait till you hear this one…and wonder if I’m just kidding myself, because I have reverted back to the mentality of a seventh grader. Well, if that’s the case, I know exactly who to blame!
I go back and forth in my head, thinking that words are arbitrary and constantly evolving, and on the other hand chastising myself for being part of a so-called movement to degrade the English language. But then again, people unfamiliar with Shakespeare would not believe the number of sexual innuendos in Romeo and Juliet, and not just between Romeo and Juliet! Romeo was a bit of a horn-dog who traded innuendos with his buddies, not unlike how men still do today (and yes, women too). And yet we hail this Shakespeare as some paragon of literary mastery. Yet not much has changed!
Personally, what I find most fascinating is that we can be constantly making up new sayings, and in the context of the moment, people still understand what we mean.