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19 March 2008 @ 02:29 pm
Paper from Slash Study Day 3  
- "Man Bits and Woman Bits: the discourse of sex in fanfic and litfic", for anyone who's interested. I put the papers from the other two SSD's up on my site but I don't want to do so with this one, because by its very nature it contains a lot of what my granny would have called Language. My site gets a lot of GCSE-student visitors and while I doubt they'd mind, their parents and teachers might.

I toyed with the idea of sending it to the OTW mag but they wanted too much done to it, including "lose a load of examples" (well now, I kinda thought the examples were what it was about) and "add images". That did baffle me - the whole thing is about how words work. And what would these images be exactly - willies at the ready? I can't imagine what else would be relevant and didn't fancy googling them.... Anyway it sounded like Hard Work of an Academic Nature and let's face it, we come into fandom to get away from that sort of thing. So in case anyone does want a print version, it's behind the cut. I haven't yet found a way to import the footnotes but will try to later.

This is the text of a paper delivered at Slash Study Day 3, Cultural Exchanges Conference, De Montfort University Leicester, 25 February 2008

Man Bits and Woman Bits
The discourse of sex in fanfic and litfic

I'd like to read – no, that's a lie for a start – I'm going to read a brief description of sex from a fan fiction story, quoted mockingly on some of the many fandom websites that increase the sum of human amusement by recording this sort of thing.

Rell found the position brazenly sexual, wanton even. It excited her, feeling so blatantly open. The touch of the night air brushed over her heated center, cooling and inflaming at the same time. The petals at her core unfurled, allowing Rell to feel the first rush of her passions as they poured from her overflowing well-spring

Not good. All those euphemisms – centers, cores, well-springs; one wonders what the writer's increasing desperation would have led to next. The clumsy repetition of the name, done because there are two "shes" in this scene and the author doesn't trust us not to get confused. And those petals – flowers for a girl, though the equality of slash being what it is, the following image was from a scene involving two men:

[He] caressed the luscious ass a little more firmly, then harder, squeezed the cheeks then parted them. "Oh. There's the little rosebud", he breathed.

It's clear we have a problem, Houston. But it certainly is not a problem peculiar to slash writers, or indeed fan fiction writers in general. For proof we need only turn to the Literary Review's annual Bad Sex Award, whose stated purpose is "to draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel, and to discourage it". It was not, for once, a fan fiction writer who wrote "it was not long before she had found what she was looking for and liberated his straining manhood" – it was Ben Elton who made the 2005 shortlist with that particular over-used euphemism, from The First Casualty. (And though he might have meant it humorously, Rosemary Sutcliff was in dead earnest when she used the same term in Blood and Sand in 1987. This was also the book in which she used the term "woman bits", hence the title of this talk).

The problem, in both literary fiction and fan fiction, is easy enough to define: how to discuss, in fiction, subjects and parts of the body that most people, most of the time, hardly discuss or name at all, without sounding either artificial, risible, or embarrassing. There is a real problem of terminology for any non-humorous, serious fiction writer who wants to include such material, and an interesting variety of ways to solve it, on both sides of the litfic/fanfic divide. But the really odd thing about this problem is that until relatively recently it didn't exist.

This was not, as the unwary might suppose, because nobody wrote frankly of such matters until lately. Without being a Latinist it is hard to gauge, in translation, the exact register of someone like Catullus, but he clearly was not mincing words. The Welsh woman poet Gwerful Mechain, in the 15th century, wrote an exuberant and totally unembarrassed praise-poem to the female genitalia. And in English we have such poets as John Wilmot, earl of Rochester, and later Robert Burns, in no doubt as to what to call things.

They solved the problem – if they even saw one – of nomenclature by directness; they used the plainest of Anglo-Saxon words both for parts and the things people did with them. The appendage sometimes known as a manhood, and by so many other euphemisms, was for Rochester either a prick or a tarse – a word sadly now out of use, but which was incredibly handy for poets as it rhymed with arse. Burns uses prick too, but also has the resource of dialect, which means he can, for variety, call it a pentle, a pego or in moods of levity a pillicock. What you did with this appendage was fuck, and the bit you were looking for in your partner was a cunt, or possibly an arse, if like Rochester you were coming home late at night with torches and had taken a sudden violent fancy to the linkboy.

Rochester's readership was confined to the educated classes, who were supposed to be able to deal with that sort of subject matter. Burns had a wider audience and it is interesting that most of his filthier songs exist in two versions: the uninhibited original and the bowdlerised version, also by him, designed for a far more varied readership. Some of his most romantic and sentimental ditties, like "Green Graw The Rashes, O" and "John Anderson, my jo" look very different in their original versions – in "John Anderson" the wife, instead of musing about her husband's silver hair, is complaining about a quite different sign of old age.

The practice of putting the obscene bits of scholarly books in Latin was clearly based on the strange notion that if you could translate Latin you were proof against either shock or corruption. But that dangerous new literary form the novel, aimed at a relatively mass market via the circulating libraries and serialisation in periodicals, did not have that option. What it did have was the option of not including such material at all, not just because it was unpublishable but because most of the novel's readers weren't looking for that particular experience. For those who were, there was porn, then as now, but it didn't call itself literature or aim at a general audience – certainly not at a female one, as the novel did.

It's only in the last fifty years or so that literary fiction has really become discontented with the Jane Austen option of stopping this side of the bedroom door. Novels have, historically, ended with marriages more often than not, and as long as the narrative arc was concerned with finding one's place in the world and one's ideal partner, that was quite a good place to finish. In itself, the legalisation of homosexuality would not have changed this; two fictional men can settle down and shut the bedroom door behind them as firmly as any other couple. The wider acceptance of premarital sex, divorce, and looser relationship patterns in general, was another matter. If partnership was not necessarily for life, then what happened in bed after and indeed before the register was signed, and whether the partners enjoyed it, mattered a lot more.

By the time slash started to be published in the 70s, literary fiction had had two decades, since the Lady Chatterley trial in 1960, when it could no longer evade such material with the handy excuse of the law. It was the literary equivalent of what happens in skating when someone does a new move like a quadruple jump; within a few years every competitor needs it in the repertoire just to stay in contention. D H Lawrence, who would run away with several bad sex awards were he publishing today, did take the Rochester route sometimes; Mellors calls fucking just that. It is when he and Connie are talking to each other that problems arise. Then, not only does Lawrence, like Burns, take refuge in dialect, though nowhere near as convincingly, but he starts referring to John Thomas and Lady Jane in a way you'd need a heart of stone not to laugh at.

And yet… we can scarcely blame him, because we know how hard it is to do better when it comes to referencing man bits and woman bits. In fact it's arguable that slash writers have one special problem. For Lawrence's Connie, whose marriage is unusual, Mellors's man bits have the wonder of novelty; she can say things like "How strange he stands there! So big!" and "Oh, don't tease him" without sounding too risible, because the "he" in question really is something foreign to her. With a same-sex couple, especially a male couple, the partners are seeing nothing new, and worshipping at its altar can sound weirdly narcissistic.

The writer Meg Rosoff admits to deliberately avoiding the issue via a time-honoured device we all recognise:

The threat that the entire world will soon be guffawing over our earnest comparison of the male member to a bucketful of eager eels[…]I write of waves gently lapping on beaches. Eager tremblings. Hesitant stirrings. And my very favourite technique, the ever-appropriate use of the jump to "afterwards," as in, "they embraced tenderly, lips trembling, thighs pressed close together, while somewhere a passion began to grow, magnificent and dark and bigger, even, than God. Afterwards..."
"Afterwards" manages to suggest hours of filth and wild sexual perversion exercised off-stage, at a safe distance from the reader, a safe distance from the writer, and an extremely safe distance from the Bad Sex awards.

Ah, the smut-eating asterisks, as we would call them. In fact, in a few sentences she manages glancing references to three other possible techniques. The bucketful of eels illustrates the metaphorical approach, but also the humorous one, while the lapping waves are another variant on metaphor, what one might call the oblique approach. It seems to be borrowed from film, in that it involves not just using the waves as a metaphor but cutting away from the action to the metaphor, looking anywhere but at the bed. Bollywood films, when they had to contend with strict censorship that didn't allow kisses, made quite an art form of this, and so do some writers, though in their case the censorship is generally self-imposed.

You might argue that the avoidance technique "afterwards", which Rosoff admits to practising, is a cop-out showing little confidence in the writer's powers. I think this would be harsh. The "little rosebud" quote I gave earlier came from a story called "Benchmark" by Jane Mailander; as a story it was not half bad, and Mailander is far from a bad writer. Many names on the Bad Sex Award shortlist belong to very good writers. Sometimes their inclusion is dubious because the passages were clearly written with at least partly humorous intent – so clearly that it seems strange anyone could have missed it, for example " Now she made a noise like a tortured Moomintroll" (David Mitchell, Black Swan Green).

It is possible the selectors chose to miss it, to increase the fun. But I think the truth may be that readers are programmed to find any discussion of body parts and what to do with them embarrassing, and come to such passages expecting to react with a nervous laugh. If that's the case, then even good and serious writers have a hard job to convince them via craft. As David Aaronovitch remarked in a recent Times article:

Whatever you do, don't seek to write seriously or truthfully about it, because that just invites the appearance of that most heavy-handed of thought policemen, Officer Ridicule.

And even for good writers, this particular challenge is a hard one, especially when working through the medium of dialogue and character voice – both much beloved of fanfic writers. It is not easy to make dialogue or voice sound natural if characters are referring to bits, pieces and actions that have little place in most folk's conversation – before you know it, they're talking about little rosebuds.

So am I advocating the universal use of the "afterwards" technique? No, not really. It certainly has its uses, notably in the kind of story that isn't basically about sexual relationships anyway. And it does have one great literary advantage: it forces your reader to use her own imagination, which may well be more colourful than anything the author could have given her. There are in fact many stories that aren't really about sex but about a relationship in which sex plays a part. In such a story, the preliminaries and aftermath of sex are as important as the main event, and the writer may well choose to concentrate on these, not only to avoid unwanted hilarity but in the interest of literary variety. As the slash writer Elvichar once said, there are only so many ways to write sex; there are innumerable ways to write people into the situation where they might be about to have sex.

On the other hand, there are also many stories, slash stories in particular, that are very much about sex. This was especially true of early slash, where the participants were coming on this aspect of their own sexuality as a revelation and making a conscious choice to have sex of a particular kind. Man bits and woman bits are extremely relevant if you are effectively choosing one set for the first time, and in such a story, the word "afterwards", coming suddenly after what may have been pages of mental turmoil, is going to look very odd and evasive. Children writing in class, who have got their plot in a hopeless tangle and have only a few minutes left to finish the story, can write "and then he waved his magic wand and all was well"; adult writers find their readers less forgiving, especially if "magic wand" is being used as a euphemism.

So, can we not go down the Rochester route and just call everything by its right name? I think the potential problem there, and it is no different across the litfic border, is that only one kind of story, namely porn, is wholly about sex. Some slash writers, at least some of the time, don't mind writing stories that could be classed as porn, and then there is no problem. But many, like most litfic writers, are anxious not to be so narrowly categorised, feeling that a story in which explicit sex features may be about many other things as well. It will also, perhaps particularly in fan fiction, have characters with personalities that matter a lot to the story, which is just what most porn doesn't have. I think many writers both of slash and litfic want to avoid the mechanistic language of porn – the style sometimes described as "fit tab A into slot B" – because it feels dehumanising; it elevates man bits and woman bits into something more important than character. It doesn't help the feel of a romantic piece either; a writer on the livejournal community fanficrants who mocked the euphemism "masculine orbs" added "I realise there aren't that many romantic euphemisms for testicles". For a writer it is also very limiting; there are only so many ways you can fit tab A into slot B, and both you and your reader can soon become bored with them.

The other problem, of course, is that it may trigger embarrassed laughter in the reader, whether one uses Rochester's terminology, which is blunter than most readers feel comfortable with in conversation, or the terminology of medicine, which hardly anybody uses in conversation. Cock or penis, both carry the incongruity, the slight shock value, that can raise an unwanted laugh. One way to pre-empt this reaction is to acknowledge the potential humour in sex. It does involve some fairly ridiculous contortions and very little dignity, and writers who acknowledge this can defuse the problem by giving the reader a legitimate reason to laugh, or at least smile ruefully. Some of the most successful sex scenes do in fact acknowledge the humorous side of the matter as Rochester's poems do, or like the Jane Austen pastiche in this scene from Executrix's "Stuff and Nonsense".

Kerr-Avon spoke, with a remarkable ability to draft rhetorical periods; "But why, Blake? Or why, rather, at this time? My beauty you had early withstood, and as for my manners – my behaviour to you was at least always bordering on the uncivil, and I never spoke to you without rather wishing to give you pain than not. Now, be sincere; did you admire me for my impertinence?"
Oh gods, man, belt up, Blake wanted to say, but instead groaned "For the liveliness of your mind, I did."
Kerr-Avon […] enfolded him in an embrace.
"You may as well call it impertinence at once," he whispered. […] "It was very little less." His teeth closed on Blake's earlobe […]
"The fact is, that you were sick of civility," (nibble) "of deference," (nibble,) "of officious attention. You were disgusted with the followers who were always speaking and looking and thinking for your approbation alone."
Kerr-Avon placed his hands on the thin, warm muslin of Blake's shirt, and stroked, teazingly avoiding the peaks that, in the fairer sex, would be the founts of nourishment, and that now besought his attention.
"I roused..." he began again, and Blake moaned, "Jesus, yes…"

But not all writing on sex can include humour and sometimes a writer does, as Aaronovitch put it, want to write seriously and truthfully about sex. If she is also anxious neither to be confused with a porn writer, nor to embarrass the reader into giggles with undue directness, she may be tempted down the route of literary devices, notably metaphorical obfuscation. At its simplest, this means naming of parts, calling the thing neither by its medical name of penis nor its colloquial name of cock (itself a metaphor of course, but one whose metaphorical content has almost rubbed off with constant use). There are many alternatives, most of which are guaranteed to have your audience rolling in the aisles, not, this time, with embarrassment but with genuine hilarity. My own least favourite has always been "manhood", because it seems so insulting to suggest that concepts like manhood or womanhood reside anywhere but in the mind and personality. Its full ludicrousness can only be appreciated when you apply the concept to another species, hence my favourite quote on this subject, from an LotR story which was, not, I regret, intended humorously.

Legolas wanted to question Haldir's coincidental preparedness, but his thoughts were interrupted by the slick feeling of oil on Haldir's hands, coating his Elfhood.

This fic is very direct in what it describes, ie a penetrative sex act, but resolutely euphemistic when it comes to naming of the parts involved. People – beg pardon, elves – have unspecified "openings", they enter each other's "warmth". As I said before, I think both the "afterwards" technique and total directness have their uses in different storytelling contexts. I find it very hard to think of any situation where this technique would be the best option. I sense a massive mismatch between lexis and subject matter. One can see why the writer did not want to use the terminology of medicine or porn for an essentially romantic scene, but to choose to describe such a scene onstage as it were, while searching for ever more desperate euphemisms for what you have chosen to look at, is the writing equivalent of looking through your fingers.

A more promising alternative might be what Lewis Carroll once described poets as doing

To learn to look at all things
With a sort of mental squint

Essentially that means looking not only at what is happening but beyond and inside it, at what it means in terms of your characters and the story. There's a vast difference between a euphemism and a metaphor; the metaphor is not running away from the reality of the object or action but trying to see a different aspect of it. And if you're writing a story in which a sex scene is also climactic in terms of a relationship and people's understanding of themselves, it is obvious why you might want to describe not just how tab A fits into slot B but what that act means in the lives of your characters and what is going on in their heads while it happens. It is, after all, often said that the most important sex organ is the mind. It's also the organ whose operations are the hardest to describe accurately in this context. Normally a writer should be able to record her experiences and feelings for later use, but in this situation memory tends to be fuzzy and even if one retained the presence of mind to whip out a notebook, one's partner would very likely object.

Fortunately our readers have the same memory problem, so we might still get away with it. In this sex scene from Julia Glass's novel The Whole World Over, the point of view character has earlier suffered a brain injury which truncated her vocabulary. Orgasm is a release in more than one sense:

And then before her inner eye, a tide of words leaped high and free, a chaotic joy like frothing rapids: truncate, adjudicate, fornicate, frivolous, rivulet, violet, oriole, orifice, conifer, aquifer, allegiance, alacrity ... all the words this time not a crowding but a heavenly chain, an ostrich fan, a vision as much as an orgasm, a release of something deep in the core of her altered brain, words she thought she'd lost for good.

That passage also made the Bad Sex Awards shortlist, which if you ask me is a liberty. I think she made a fair job of conflating verbal, physical and emotional release. Litfic writers talking about sex have an uphill task, if even this invites the attention of Officer Ridicule.

Of course one can make a hash of this tactic too, especially by making any metaphor too specific or too foregrounded. In litfic, few laughs were worse timed than the one generated by the late great Yukio Mishima, in a short story called "Patriotism" . In the middle of what was meant to be a massively emotive last love-making scene between a couple about to commit suicide, he wanted to stress that his hero brought the same devotion to lovemaking as to his military career, but still it was not wise to let his army metaphor run away with him, "The lieutenant panted like the regimental standard-bearer on a route march". In fan fiction, we are working with canons which often provide their own source of imagery. That can be helpful or the reverse, depending on how skilfully the author uses it – in some Harry Potter fic, for example, magic wands and broomsticks do, unwisely, become metaphors.

But when it is well done, this technique of looking inside and beyond the physical acts to what they signify in the protagonists' lives can be very moving. In this scene between two London policemen from Kel's story "Golden Boy", the protagonist Gary, who has been presented as obsessively self-reliant, is for the first time seeing what it might be like to surrender oneness, to lean, literally and figuratively on someone else.

Panicking, struggling, unable to breathe, it took a second for the actuality to sink in, for him to understand, a second in which the desire to escape and the desire to give in, to respond, were at violent and unequal odds […] No words, only inarticulate, muffled sounds, sharp, soft intake of breath, no world but a soft cloud of scents, of leather, sweat, rain, gentle movements, quickening, creeping excitement white-hot, the need for release sudden, urgent. Gary fought it, the sheer sensation of happiness, of being held and holding, more than enough, overwhelming... Desperate to give, he held tighter, held back, suffused with delight as he felt Loxton tremble, start and shudder against him, held him tight and rode out the waves that shook the other's body, its tension ebbing away only to renew as he reached his own release, soft cries lost in the warmth of leather and soft golden hair.

What the author is doing here is, essentially, using a sex scene as you would a scene involving any other, less charged, activity, to illustrate characters and relationships. This seems the most natural and obvious thing a good writer should be doing. But it really isn't as easy as using a scene of two people having breakfast, working together or travelling from A to B to illustrate character and relationship, simply because we have a widely accepted and used vocabulary for those situations, which causes neither embarrassment nor hilarity.

Nevertheless, the general principle holds good, that no scene will work unless the characters are recognisably being themselves in it. If an author wants to have someone refer to an anus as a little rosebud, she needs to be sure it's something that person could convincingly say. And if she chooses an outside narrator – i.e. in most cases her own voice, - then I think she must choose a vocabulary she herself is comfortable with. Embarrassment in the writer will communicate itself to the reader, and a writer who cannot discuss the matter comfortably in any terms but openings, cores and well-springs would be better off either using some avoidance technique like Bollywood obliquity or cutting straight to "afterwards".

Consistency of tone is important too. Depending on circumstances, almost any lexis can work, from Rochester's bluntness to metaphorical obliqueness. I've even seen the most unlikely candidate, medical terminology, work in a Sherlock Holmes slashfic by Susannah Shepherd where the narrator was the medical doctor, Watson. What won't work is veering incongruously between different modes of speech, nor, I think, mismatching mood and matter by being frank about everything except language.

Calling a spade a spade, glancing obliquity, cutting to "afterwards", using the riches of metaphor to go within and beyond the act to what it means in a person's life, pre-empting laughter with a genuinely humorous reason for it, all can be valid methods. But they all depend also on reader reaction, and discouraging the dreaded playground giggle of Officer Ridicule is still for my money one of the hardest tasks in slash or any other kind of sexual writing.
 
 
 
Video Deteriora Sequor: SmutPlusexecutrix on March 19th, 2008 03:04 pm (UTC)
Once Out of the Well, Our Hero....
Before commenting, I memmed this, and then was instructed to click on "Return to the Entry," which seems fair enough.

I don't want to read too much into the absence or presence of terms as an indicator of the sex-friendliness of a culture (or I'd have to conclude that English poetry hates love because there are so few passable rhymes for it) but...well, there just isn't the vocabulary. I'm a major purveyor of smut-eating asterisks because I'd rather cut to the fireplace than take an activity that everyone is quite enjoying and make it sound disagreeable at best.
entropy_houseentropy_house on March 19th, 2008 03:15 pm (UTC)
Excellent paper!

One tiny point I'd like to make-- in Mailander's story, 'Benchmark', (all the following is IMO, of course) the character was *deliberately* using fluffy language because his partner was sexually fixated on only accepting pain and abuse, while the 'rosebud' speaker preferred love-making gently and without pain. Out of deference to his partner he had never done it his way before and when he finally had an opportunity to do so, he wanted to make it clear why he was doing it. The 'rosebud' remark wasn't humorous, or a euphemism chosen to avoid more direct words- it was a characterization, showing how with a single word, Character V could tell Character A entire volumes about how his wishes had been neglected in their relationship.
Sheenagh Pughsheenaghpugh on March 19th, 2008 03:36 pm (UTC)
While that's a possible interpretation, I wonder myself if the character is, at the time, in a state to be quite so calculating in his language, and I do think that she gets that particular character's tone wrong at other points in the story. And even supposing that *is*, as it still might be, what she meant, it still made me as a reader collapse in unseemly giggles... that's one of the problems with this whole business; you have to consider not just "is it right for them" but "what effect will it have on Joe Reader".
entropy_houseentropy_house on March 19th, 2008 03:54 pm (UTC)
Oh, I never write for the reader (in general-- if someone whose tastes I know wants a story, I can write to suit them, instead of myself. I just can't write for the masses). I learned long ago that's IMPOSSIBLE. I don't recall what story I'd wrote that got enough feedback to judge reader opinion, but 1 person said 'X' was very bad, 1 person said 'X' was fabulous, and others didn't even notice 'X'.

You can either write for yourself, and please at least one person, or you can write for the median, and upset no one, but also have no one remember the story five minutes after they've read it.

The Mailander story worked for me. It didn't work for you. My explicit sex scenes with overuse of names won't work for you, but that's not to say it doesn't work for other people. I hate pronoun confusion and do not see that an explicit sex scene is necessarily TMI or repititious-- it's a human activity, why should it be qualitatively different from writing about doing anything else in which your characters are emotionally and physically active?

Just goes to show, everyone has a different POV on everything.

Edited at 2008-03-19 03:54 pm (UTC)
Sheenagh Pughsheenaghpugh on March 19th, 2008 04:03 pm (UTC)
it's a human activity, why should it be qualitatively different from writing about doing anything else in which your characters are emotionally and physically active?

No reason in the world, except linguistic - the fact that other forms of activity have an agreed vocabulary nobody gets embarrassed about using or reading. I agree completely that you can't write for anyone but yourself - in fact the trouble with some really funny depictions of sex is that the writer herself seems embarrassed by what she's saying - but in describing this one activity, we have the additional problem that however well it's done, many people are always going to react with a nervous giggle - probably less in slash fandom than most other contexts, because they're used to it and have developed something of an acceptable terminology, but even here it can happen. It was just a light-hearted look at the different ways some writers, both litifc and fanfic, choose to try to get around that reaction. Certainly no one way is "right".

Video Deteriora Sequorexecutrix on March 19th, 2008 04:19 pm (UTC)
There Are Nine and Sixty Ways of Constructing Tribal Lays
...although there is *also* a highly cliched and banal vocabulary for violence. Bill Pronzini wrote "Gun in Cheek" and "Son of Gun in Cheek" largely about roscoes that cough, PIs who see stars when sapped in alleys, etc.
Sheenagh Pughsheenaghpugh on March 19th, 2008 05:10 pm (UTC)
Re: There Are Nine and Sixty Ways of Constructing Tribal Lays
That's embarrassing simply because it's clichéd, bad writing. What seems to me unique about the language of sex is that, as Aronovitch says in that quote, Officer Ridicule is on the lookout for even quite well phrased depictions. Whether this is a purely British reaction I couldn't say, but I'm guessing not, because it seems to resonate with writers of other cultures too.
Sheenagh Pugh: Sydney Smithsheenaghpugh on March 19th, 2008 04:45 pm (UTC)
Btw, the pronoun business again should be seen in context - in the particular example, it was plain daft to repeat the name because nobody could have been in doubt as to who was being referred to.

In more general terms, what we need is Norwegian. Uniquely among the languages I know (though my daughter tells me Hindi is the same) it has a separate set of reflexive pronouns. "Han er i sin seng" means "he is in his (ie his own) bed"; "han er i hans seng" means "he is in his (ie some other man's) bed". This device would so revolutionise slash writing that I only wonder we haven't invented our own set...
Video Deteriora Sequor: poundofexecutrix on March 19th, 2008 04:50 pm (UTC)
But in languages more frequently studied in the English-speaking world, a lot could be done with celui-ci and celui-la.

Or, for that matter, The Party of the First Part and the Party of the Second Part.
Sheenagh Pughsheenaghpugh on March 19th, 2008 05:05 pm (UTC)
But then you get on to the party of the first part and the party of the second part's parts.....
entropy_houseentropy_house on March 19th, 2008 05:37 pm (UTC)
And when the parts are having a party part-time, pretty soon it's impossible to be impartial...
entropy_houseentropy_house on March 19th, 2008 04:57 pm (UTC)
I did very much enjoy your essay, and find the different perceptions and reactions intriguing.

I don't know how many people deliberately 'desensitized' themselves to slashfic embarrassement, but I did. I deliberately wrote a story with explicit sex and used a thesaurus heavily in order to euphemise the heck out of it. Then I let it sit for a few days and read it. It burned my retinas. After that, I found it much easier to say 'cock' and 'balls' instead of 'rosy-hued tower of manhood' and 'velvety jewels' (which is a REALLY impossible one, bound to make anyone giggle *note* save that for a joke story...).

I still haven't found any 'ladybits' words that work for me. They all seem either too clinical, too offensive or too euphemistic. I suppose if I liked f/f stories, I'd find some better way around it than simply not naming bits.
Sheenagh Pughsheenaghpugh on March 20th, 2008 09:39 am (UTC)
Gwerful Mechain is a bit flowery but at least original.
entropy_houseentropy_house on March 20th, 2008 06:31 pm (UTC)
AH! I not only liked that, I liked the word 'quim'. Now, if only I could use it without people saying 'eh, what's that?'
Lilli Burlero: oppositelilliburlero on March 19th, 2008 03:32 pm (UTC)
Someone once told me that "tarse" is the only non-euphemistic/non-metaphorical word. ("Penis" is just a Latin tail, after all.) I regret its demise, though I once saw it deployed to effect in a Mills & Boon, the only M&B I've ever read... I don't think anyone's who's not offended by explicit sex is going to be offended by "cock", and it's not in itself sniggerworthy. Gets repetitive though. "Woman bits" are more difficult... "cunt" stands a real chance of offending some sensibilities; I think the jocose alternatives are more offensive, and "fanny" has the added transatlantic misunderstanding problem. I saw the term "vee-jay-jay" used on the cover of a magazine -- I think it was American Cosmo -- I just stared for a moment in horror: I didn't think you could disimprove on the horrible word "vagina". I think Martin Amis somewhere describes a female character having one like "a greasy pocket in a moleskin waistcoat" -- that exactly how the word sounds to me. For me, though, the most difficult thing is orgasm: there's a real lack of verbs. Climax used as a verb is *ugh*, "orgasm" is a pretty ugly word and unspeakable as a verb & then there's all that pseudo-archaic: "die", "spend", you know, but they won't do for anything set after the reign of Queen Anne. So we're left banging away, so to speak, at "come", which is terribly banal. I wonder if that's why characters often have disappointing sex in fiction. I don't think the Julia Glass is at all bad, particularly given the context of the character's experience. I suspect that's the philistine side of the Literary Review emerging; the tendency to mock Big Words that sometimes has an outbreak in Pseuds Corner too. Sorry, that became a marathon comment...
Sheenagh Pughsheenaghpugh on March 19th, 2008 03:42 pm (UTC)
But a fascinating one...
Jules Jonesjulesjones on March 19th, 2008 05:35 pm (UTC)
There's an ongoing ruckus in the RWA (to which I have apparently contributed fuel merely by *existing*) on the subject of Those Filthy Porn Writers using Those Filthy Words in books that are published under the pure and innocent name of romance. Letters to the editor from the American equivalents of Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells, about the shameful scandal of people who call themselves romance writers prostituting themselves with their use of words like "cock" and "cunt"...
Sheenagh Pughsheenaghpugh on March 19th, 2008 05:39 pm (UTC)
What are their suggested alternatives? That's only fair....
Jules Jonesjulesjones on March 19th, 2008 05:44 pm (UTC)
Their complaint is that we shouldn't be writing scenes requiring the use of such words in the first place. There is absolutely no need, ever, to follow the characters beyond the bedroom door unless you're writing pornography. And if you are such a trollop as to write pornography just because it sells, then you shouldn't be calling yourself a romance writer.

They're like this about the het erotic romance. So imagine how they felt when the tidal wave of original character slash hit the commercial romance markets a couple of years ago. :->
entropy_houseentropy_house on March 20th, 2008 06:38 pm (UTC)
I do think there's a difference between pornography and erotica. Erotica can be romantic. I don't think pornography can be romantic.
Nico: writingvilakins on March 20th, 2008 08:52 am (UTC)
Do you think that parts even need to be mentioned? There's a recent b7fic post that linked to a story involving a threesome (A/V/D) that I considered quite explicit although no body parts were named. Interestingly, the first (het) encounter is in fact an an 'afterwards' one.
Sheenagh Pughsheenaghpugh on March 20th, 2008 09:27 am (UTC)
Do you think that parts even need to be mentioned?

I think it nearly always depends on the context. Certainly some of the most erotic writing I've seen doesn't go in for naming of parts. OTOH, there are situations where I think it would look odd to avoid it altogether- the Holmes-Watson fic I referred to in the paper is one such, because its premise is that one of Watson's parts doesn't quite work. Also he's a doctor narrating the story, and a reluctance to refer directly to body parts might look a little OOC in him.

In humour, I definitely think naming of parts tends to add to the fun - cf Rochester and Burns, but that's never really been a problem.
Nicovilakins on March 20th, 2008 09:34 am (UTC)
It's odd: the use of the almost omnipresent 'cock' irritates the hell out of me, but more humorous terms like 'todger' don't.
entropy_houseentropy_house on March 20th, 2008 06:37 pm (UTC)
Whereas 'todger' would drop me entirely out of the story and 'cock' to me is the least offensive name in common use for a bit of anatomy.

It's impossible to find a middle ground. I can't think of any noun for the generative organs that would be accepted by all.
Manna: Penis Restraint Lovemanna on March 20th, 2008 06:46 pm (UTC)
I can't think of any noun for the generative organs that would be accepted by all.

Clearly what we need is a system whereby the reader can provide their preferred terms at the start of the story, and those are then automatically substituted where necessary for any terms they really hate.
entropy_houseentropy_house on March 20th, 2008 06:51 pm (UTC)
YES! Telepathic auto-correction! *runs right out to invent and patent it* *giggle*

Oh, you mean like a computer program. Shucks, that'd be *practical*...

Edited at 2008-03-20 06:52 pm (UTC)
nadja heeft de sleutels: GH - Alan and Tucker s3arjuna_lj on March 20th, 2008 12:06 pm (UTC)
Oh I say... thank you for "tarse" - I'd not heard that before :) I'll have to ask Dad if he has. Very much his sort of word.

I'm reading the Mitchell at the moment [for GH-fic context :)] and that particular line had me spraying coffee all over the staffroom. Mind you, it's so in character for Jason you can't help but love it. (It was impossible to explain to my colleagues, who seem all to be depressingly post-Jansson...)

Thank you for the kind words also :)
old_rookeryold_rookery on March 20th, 2008 10:41 pm (UTC)
This is scarcely a new problem for the Christian West, and probably not for any culture. In some ways we have it better, with a choice of polite terms, Latinate vocabulary, obscenities, and euphemisms (running the gamut from cliché to original metaphor). As a result, in dialog at least, the character speaking will often make the choice obvious. And of course we need to consider the effect we want to create (humorous, poetic, shocking, etc.)

The problem is "polite sensibilities". The fabliaux authors of the Middle Ages were very aware of this, and are usually far more vulgar when they use euphemisms than when they say "the word". In "The Squirrel", for example, a young girl asks her mother the word for "that thing hanging between Father's legs" (so she's seen it). The mother hems and haws and finally gives in, forbidding her to utter it. The delighted girl won't stop saying it, and her mother leaves in tears. Then a man happens along, and the girl asks what he's playing with under his jerkin. (Remember, she knows both what it is and the word for it.) He identifies it as his pet squirrel and explains how she can feed it the walnuts she ate the day before. There follows one of the most grossly graphic descriptions of intercourse in all medieval literature, based on the squirrel metaphor without a single blunt word, ending with the squirrel regurgitating from overeating.

The theme of the pointlessness of considering some words dirty and others polite reappears often in the fabliaux, and the "naming game" is the most frequent form the story takes.
Trust me, I know what you're doingseize on August 8th, 2008 11:27 pm (UTC)
That is a totally amazing little piece of knowledge. :)
lefaym on August 8th, 2008 12:32 pm (UTC)
This was a great read. I'm going to rec it over at my LJ-- all slash writers should see this. :)
Sheenagh Pughsheenaghpugh on August 14th, 2008 08:45 am (UTC)
Thanks!