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Monday, January 08, 2007

Our changing vocabulary

Whilst I was having a conversation a few days ago, it occurred to me that our language is constantly changing (assuming you're not currently speaking Esperanto). Namely, it is changing in ways that make it much more difficult to say something without someone thinking you are talking about sex. Whether it's the fact that "gay" now means "homosexual" rather than "flippantly happy," or the proliferation of Bond films, where just about everything has either a sexual or violent connotation, we are being conditioned to treat every statement as some clever variety of smut.

I especially recall sitting in a classroom once where the lecturer was discussing war and piracy and how the victors always came away with the "booty." The snickering, chuckles, and hand-gestures were near universal among the students, of a generation that only associates the word with sexual anatomy and regrettable early Jamie Foxx films.

As a public service, and also for my own amusement, I've put together a list, by no means complete, of terms and phrases that modern folk should learn to avoid due to their potential for double entendre. Avoid them like the clap.

  • booty (pirates excepted, of course)
  • Shiver me timbers!
  • Kiss the black spot!
  • Walk the plank!
  • poopdeck

All right, apparently these first ones are all sayings that pirates use. No wonder people consider them sexual as well as social reprobates. Anyway, here is the non-pirate version of the list, which excludes obvious ones such as "tart," "fanny," "banana," and "anaconda":

  • plough the fields
  • shaft (including "mine the shaft," "you're bendin' the shafts," and the movie Shaft (both))
  • wicket
  • sausage (You'd think this one obvious but in Britain there's still a comfort zone for the word.)
  • hole in one
  • suction
  • nub
  • nibble
  • all words rhyming with "lass"
  • ride 'em cowboy
  • Engelbert Humperdink (last name especially)
  • Gird your loins!
  • sod the pitch (particulary British, this one)
  • estuary
  • milk the cow
  • Gingrich
  • Pelosi
  • spread the mayonaisse
  • stuff the turkey (particularly American)
  • hose
  • Bilbo
  • wand
  • Howdy Doody (another American one)
  • Ryder Cup
  • liquor
  • Ken Livingstone
  • super-size
  • pork-n-beans
  • raconteur
  • nasal spray
  • sandwich
  • sushi
  • Phillips-head screwdriver
  • guacamole
  • spotted dick (very British, and an old joke to boot)
  • jackhammer
  • Titanic
  • Leonard Nimoy
  • leotard
  • Gamera
  • up the river
  • finagle

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