Thursday, April 03, 2008

Flying Balls and Stiff Shafts

by Jo Robertson

Warning: The following material may be inappropriate for some readers.

Last night I crawled into bed beside my husband, Dr. Big. I was finishing up Deanna Raybourne’s Victorian mystery SILENT IN THE SANCTUARY, closing in on the denouement, when I heard muttering to the side of me.

I ignored it. Raybourne’s a fabulous author and I did SO want to find out of Nicholas Brisbane would kiss Lady Julia Grey again, so far the extent of their physical engagement. More muttering to my left, but now the words began to penetrate my consciousness.

What you say? Flying balls and stiff shafts?

There’s not a romance writer in the world who will not identify with my curiosity at the tenor of those words – flying balls and hard shafts? What other meaning could be attached to them but a bit of naughtiness?

“What are you talking about?” I asked, dragging my eyes from the printed form of Nicholas Brisbane.

Dr. Big waved a giant golf magazine in front of me. “My golf game, what else? A golfer’s most important tools are flying balls – gotta get loft and trajectory or the ball will . . .”

At that point my eyes glazed over. “Hmmm,” I murmured noncommitally.

I gave up Nicholas Bane for THIS?

“And of course the shaft of both the woods and the irons,” intoned Dr. Big, “must be hard, stiff, solid, not too flexible. Otherwise the . . . " He slanted a sly look at me. “What did you think I meant?”

Ha! What did he THINK I meant? Am I not a romance writer? Obviously, there’s only one answer to that.

The conversation got me to thinking. Would the mind of a normal person (by that, insert – a non-romance writer) flit precisely to the same place as mine did? That idea led to euphemisms and YES, that’s my topic.

We writers talk about purple prose and unrealistic and ridiculous stand-ins for body parts and functions, but what do we really mean?

Should we call a spade a spade – er, a shaft a shaft?

Before I was a mother, my delightful nephew Bryan had an accident in which his tiny penis had a serious confrontation with the toilet seat. Said toilet seat assaulted the poor boy and, honestly, it’s a wonder the kid ever got potty-trained. Three-year-old Bryan raced, screaming into the living room where his mother and I sat.

“I hurt my wee-wee tickler,” he bawled.

Wee-wee tickler?

Good grief, was my sister (a nurse, by the way) actually going to let her child call his penis a wee-wee tickler? I shuddered.

But I now realize there’s a place for such ridiculous euphemisms. The first time I used the word “penis” in front of my father-in-law, he had an apoplectic fit and stomped out of the room, muttering something about bad language.

Hmm, I’d rather thought the word was simply . . . anatomically correct.

The other day my five-year-old granddaughter flashed me a sad little look. “Grammy Jo,” she said, “my vagina hurts.”

“Oh, really?” I tried very hard not to laugh.

She nodded theatrically. “I didn’t wipe the right way,” she confided. “Now I have an infection.”

Her younger brother has his own troubled story to tell. At the tender age of three, he raided a nightstand drawer where he presumed lay his candy stash. Apparently the little blue pill looks like . . . well, candy.

Now a stiff shaft on a three-year old is not a pretty sight. Poor little guy talked about his penis hurting all day. After the poison-control hotline lady stopping laughing, she assured his mother than the sensation would subside within four to six hours.

I was proud of him. He never once spoke of shafts or wee-wee ticklers. “Mom, my penis is too big. It hurts. A lot.”

Fighting the euphemism-battle is very difficult task for parents. Even when we use the medical terminology for body parts and functions, children are like dirty little sponges. They soak up whatever “potty” word is going around at the moment. It was an uphill and, I suspect, losing battle.

Wee-wee tickler is beginning to sound better all the time.

What about you? Do you shudder when a romance writer uses a silly, demeaning term for a body part or function? Any funny experiences with your own children? Are you sick of that purple prose or do you prefer the euphemism to the harsh glare of reality?

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