Body parts have real names

It’s been a while since I did a body part blog, but two things happened recently that made me think it’s time again. One of my paranormal books got a review complaining that I kept mentioning body parts. I was a bit confused because though I do have sex scenes in my books, for a paranormal romance they’re kind of tame. I shrugged it off and went on to do something else…and that’s when it hit me. The reader wasn’t talking about the sexual heat in my book. She was talking about the language. I call a penis a penis and a vagina a vagina, and the reader wanted euphemisms.

This made me laugh, yet at the same time it made me feel a little sad that this could offend anyone. Dr. Oz and other experts use the terms on their daytime TV shows, and unless the episode is just about sex, there’s not even a warning to keep children away. It’s not considered offensive, and shouldn’t be.

My second nudge happened because I was putting up an unedited excerpt for my upcoming book on my blog. In the excerpt, the main character catches her nearly naked husband with a completely naked woman. Though this scene isn’t steamy, I was concerned that I might have to post an 18-years-or-older content warning. All because I use real body part names to describe real body parts. (I dare anyone to think in euphemisms at a time like that!)

When my son was about 4 or 5, a small boy came to my house to tell me that my son used ‘the F word.’ I managed not to laugh – at least, not until the boy left. Later I told my son that it was just a word but some people were offended by it, so he shouldn’t use it. I can’t say that I never used it in front of my son, but my husband and I don’t make a habit of it. It’s the same thing with my books. Characters in my latest book haven’t used it a lot, but my hero in Dead People was a former rockstar and he said it often. As far as I know, no reviewer dinged me for it. It fit his character.

I recently read a book that mentioned the hero’s ‘loin’ and ‘groin.’ It was a contemporary romance, and as I read it, I thought that might be something I could use in my books. But the thing is, I write in deep 3rd person point of view, which means I’m in my characters’ minds. My characters don’t think the word ‘groin’ unless they have a sprain in theirs. They don’t think ‘loin’ unless they’re in the pork section at the grocery store.

I do see men in books thinking about their ‘cock,’ but I’ve gotta say that I don’t think most men I know use it. (Yes, I’ve asked, though not a large survey.) It could be a regional thing. I do use ‘erection’ in my books when it’s appropriate. I’ve had my characters give their penis a nickname, but that’s about it.

What about you? In fiction or real life, what words do you prefer?

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24 Responses to Body parts have real names

  1. Amy Atwell says:

    Edie, this post really got me thinking–not easy on a Monday morning over my first cuppa Joe. (now I’m worried–is that a euphemism? Will people be offended if I say the real thing, COFFEE? LOL) Anyway, I’m was raised to be a polite Midwesterner, and while I won’t say that I’ve never sworn, my timing is usually well-chosen and, most times, I’m alone. I’ve worked in barns and in theater and unloading trucks, so I’m certainly not afraid to use them.

    What’s weird is that in my first 2-3 contemporary manuscripts, none of my characters said anything beyond “damn” and “hell.” And body parts? Good heavens, I just avoided the mention. Remember–polite girl raised in the Midwest. We just didn’t discuss such things. But, by the time I wrote Lying Eyes, I think I finally hit my stride with writing male characters. I stopped being the polite Midwest girl and let my Boston-raised cop be a guy. He says things I would never say!

    • Edie Ramer says:

      Amy, I’m a Midwest girl, too. It must be a less polite part than the one you come from. lol But there was no swearing in my home that I can remember. As for bathroom activities (how’s that for a euphemism?), they were called Nr. 1 and Nr. 2. I sometimes still say ‘dog dirt.’ But with two dogs now, I call it what it is.

  2. Misty Evans says:

    Another Midwestern girl here. My preference when reading is for the language to fit the story and characters just like the way they dress, eat and work. As a writer, I’ve had people complain that my characters didn’t use enough swear words and others complain about so many. Can’t please everyone!

    Edie, your story about your son made me laugh and remember a funny moment with one of my twins, who was three, and my father-in-law. My son and I were sitting on the living room floor playing with Legos when he accidently knocked them over and said, “Goddammit!” My father-in-law – a religious fellow who didn’t swear much even though he’d been a Marine – looked at me (not my husband!) and raised an eyebrow. All I could say was, “Well, at least he knows the proper use of that word.” :)

    • Edie Ramer says:

      Misty, too funny that your fil looked at you when your son swore. As if you’re the language police in your home. Love your answer to him. You’re a true writer.

  3. Edie,

    For the record, I’ve never found anything you’ve written offensive and I didn’t say damn until I was, ahh, 33. Women never swore in my family. I still have a hesitation in using “foul” language or as my gram used to say, not ladylike.

    However, I use it in my books where it fits the situation and the character. I don’t have a problem with it then and actually it sort of makes me feel good. :oops:

    Where I do have a problem in reading is when author’s use euphemisms which don’t fit the character as developed or the situation.

    You reader/reviewer has the problem–not you. Now I’ll slink away…
    Casey Clifford`s last blog was …Just An Update Today

    • Edie Ramer says:

      MJ, now I have a picture in my mind of you slinking away. Kind of like an exotic dancer. Other than the slinking, you’re still ladylike.

      Yes, I’m a believer in using real words obviously. Euphemisms often pull me out of a scene, which I’m sure is the opposite effect of what the author intended.

  4. Amy Remus says:

    While I do not use swear words typically (I have a 10 and 8 year old and try to be a good example), I don’t mind reading them if they fit the character an story. If I am really upset at work and may say the “f” word my colleagues are all shocked at me (if only they knew that most of the books I read have the “f” word in there often. Also, while I use real names for body parts at my house, I find that I prefer euphemisms in books for males. If a big, tough, alpha male referred to his penis as his penis, I would probably be surprised. But, it doesn’t really bother me reading it one way or the other (not enough to even think about it in a review or telling the author about it). However, for the female side of things – I can’t stand the word “cunt” or “pussy.” That turns me off so quickly and I have stopped reading books because of it (but again, I wouldn’t mention it in a review or to the author because it is my preference I guess). I know it dosen’t make sense! Thanks for the blog post.

    • Edie Ramer says:

      Amy, now I’m wondering what the big, tough, alpha males call their penis. lol

      I feel the same way about cunt and pussy. They’re derogatory words. And I can remember when Oprah started calling vaginas “veegee” or something similar after hearing it on Grey’s Anatomy. And she said it with such glee, so happy to have found a word for vagina that isn’t derogatory or offensive. Though I adore Oprah, I don’t adore the name. I like the sound of “vagina” said aloud. It’s a good word and doesn’t need a nickname.

      • Amy Remus says:

        Most of the books I have read the alpha male refers to his own body part has been cock. I don’t know if I prefer that word because it seems to be the most common and therefore familiar or not. I’ve never really thought about it very much until this post. Now I am going to be watching for those words everytime I read a book! I have to add that I feel uncomfortable typing those words on this website. I feel dirty saying those words and typing them but not reading it. How crazy am I?

        • Edie Ramer says:

          Amy, I do see that on the hotter RS and paranormal books. I don’t write those kind of stories, though I read them too.

          It would be interesting if someone did a large survey about that. Someone gutsier than I am. lol

          • Amy Remus says:

            I will have to check out move of your books Edie. I have only read Dead People which I liked a lot!

  5. Edie Ramer says:

    Amy, so glad you enjoyed Dead People! If you like stories a bit darker, you might like Dragon Blues.

    I’ll have a new book and novella from my new series next month, Miracle Interrupted. It’s contemporary with magical elements. The stories aren’t dark but they aren’t real light either.

  6. Oh, Edie, this line make me LOL: “They don’t think ‘loin’ unless they’re in the pork section at the grocery store.” :)

    I’m all for writing what the character would really say or think — whether it’s a euphemistic term or the official one — and if it’s a word that someone finds offensive, then…well…*shrug* No writer can please everybody. I’d rather get a few people upset but stay true to my characters’ speech than I would change much of the dialogue or internal narration. I remember reading this book where the author had systematically modified all real cursing and anything that might be construed as coarse language, and it was really distracting to me. It didn’t feel like authentic dialogue AT ALL to have these juvenile (“oh, fudgesicle!”) curse words coming from the mouth of a grown man.

    So, to me, if it’s true to the character’s POV, I say keep whatever words you want to use.
    Marilyn Brant`s last blog was …Join Me (and the B&N Book Club) for a Grand European Adventure!

    • Edie Ramer says:

      Marilyn, I bet you’ll remember that the next time you’re reading a hot sex scene and the author uses ‘loin.’ lol

      I would have the same reaction about ‘fudgsicle.” On TV, I always mentally stop when they say “friggin’.” Though I can understand that they can’t say fucking because of censorship, it gives me a brain stutter.

  7. :) most men when they refer to their penis call it a dick (i know this because many years ago I took a survey. I asked about 30 men from ages 17 to 70 what they referred to their penis as. Other then the funny names like King Johnson, the majority of them said, “My dick.”). but many women prefer the c word over dick when they’re reading steamy stuff. I use dick, penis and cock. and a few others… :cool:
    Karin* Tabke aka Harlow!`s last blog was …CAPA Winner!

    • Edie Ramer says:

      I use dick, penis and cock. and a few others…

      Good idea, Karin. Why limit yourself?

      I think ‘dick’ is probably what most guys think, too.

  8. Liz Kreger says:

    I’m all for using euphemisms when referring to body parts. To me, it yanks me out of a story if you use penis or vagina. Particularly if its a gritty UF. I prefer to use the word “dick” or “erection”. I’ve seen the use of “pussy”, “clit” and “core” when referring to the vagina. It all depends what the story calls for.

    As far as swearing in front of little kids? I’ve never been particularly careful with my use of swear words in front of the little darlin’. She knows that its not appropriate and that while I’m allowed to use certain words, she’s not. It has never really been an issue. She does, however, use the word “freakin'” and we all know the basis of that one. :roll:

    • Edie Ramer says:

      Liz, I feel the opposite of you. But I read across the genres and that’s probably why.

      My husband uses “freakin'” too. I’d actually prefer him to use the real thing. It has more power. But like you said, he’s an adult.

  9. It’s funny. All those four letter (talk about euphemism!) words are Anglo-Saxon in origin, and have been around for many hundreds of years. They have the kind of enduring power that has really stood the test of time.

    That said, I think over-use is as annoying as not using them appropriately.

    Of course, I write historicals, and some of the worst swear words of the Tudor era don’t seem at all bad to us now. S’blood! for instance. A shortening of Christ’s blood. Totally not done. But when my characters say it in my books, I feel like I should probably be using one of the more enduring swear words (I can’t even say more modern swear words, because most of them were actually in use and had been for hundreds of years by the Tudor era) just so the reader understands how rude they were actually being.

    • Edie Ramer says:

      Michelle, now that you’ve told me what ‘sblood means, I’ll get goosebumps next time I read it. I’ve read that “bloody hell” isn’t something they actually said back in the day, but one writer (I think Jayne Ann Krentz) started writing it, and now most historical writers use it wrongly.

      I overuse penis in my last book. At one time I talk about the main character’s husband’s ‘wandering penis.’ It cracks me up every time I read it. Just for the hell of it, I should do a ‘penis’ count. I’ll try not to use it so much on my next book.

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  11. Midwesterner here too! And we never cursed! Wouldn’t even think of it. I don’t think I said the “f” word until I was thirty. Now I cruse all the time lol. I have to say though, I’ve moved to the south and its worse here, where I live anyway.

    My son goes to the best school in our county, but he learned cursing in kindergarten. Okay, and he learned a little from my husband and me :) One thing I find funny (but my husband doesn’t), my son has heard words beeped out on tv shows and music. Now he’s gotten into the habit of saying “what the beeeeep!” or “holy beeeep!” I think its hilarious, but I can see where people might find it offense.

    • Misty Evans says:

      Lori, that’s hilarious. You should use that in a book. “What the beeeep!” I think I may add that to my lexicon. :)

      My teenage twin sons get a kick out of when I bleep out swear words in movies when we’re watching them together. I don’t do most of the normal ones, but I do bleep out the f word if I know it’s coming. They think that’s hilarious because they know and probably use the word in their group of friends, but I don’t use it in mixed company because I personally don’t like hearing it when I’m in public. Especially in front of kids. We’re adults and have a full adult vocabulary but part of being an adult is knowing when to step up and act like one. People who drop the f bomb constantly in public don’t seem adult to me, they actually seem like teenagers trying to get attention.

    • Edie Ramer says:

      Lori, I love Holy Beep! I might use that in a book sometime. If I do, I’ll let you know.

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