From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The use of euphemisms is at its highest in sexual matters, closely followed by morbid matters.
The Latin term pudendum and the Greek term αιδοίον (aidoion) for the genitals literally mean "shameful thing". Groin, crotch, and loins refer to a larger region of the body, but are euphemistic when used to refer to the genitals. The word masturbate is derived from Latin, the word manus meaning hand and the word sturbare meaning to defile. In pornographic stories, the words rosebud and starfish are often used as euphemisms for anus, generally in the context of anal sex.
Sexual intercourse was once a euphemism derived from the more general term intercourse by itself, which simply meant "meeting" but now is normally used as a synonym for the longer phrase, thus making the town of Intercourse, Pennsylvania, a subject of jokes in modern usage.
The "baseball metaphors for sex" are perhaps the most famous and widely-used set of polite euphemisms for sex and relationship behavior in the U.S. The metaphors encompass terms like "hitting it off" for a good start to relationship, "Striking out" for being unlucky with a love interest, and "running the bases" for progressing sexually in a relationship. The "bases" themselves, from first to third, stand for various levels of sexual activity from French kissing to "petting", itself a euphemism for manual genital stimulation, all of which is short of "scoring" or "coming home", sexual intercourse. "Hitting a home run" describes sex during the first date, "batting both ways" (also "switch-hitting") or "batting for the other team" describes bisexuality or homosexuality respectively, and "stealing bases" refers to initiating new levels of sexual contact without invitation. Baseball-related euphemisms also abound for the "equipment"; "Bat and balls" are a common reference to the male genitalia, while "glove" or "mitt" can refer to the female anatomy.
There are many euphemisms for birth control devices, sometimes even propagated by the manufacturers: Condoms are known as "rubbers", "sheaths", "love gloves", "diving suits", "raincoats", "Johnnies" (in Ireland and to a lesser degree Britain) etc. The birth control pill is known simply as "The Pill", and other methods of birth control are also given generalized euphemisms like "The Patch", "The Sponge", "Shots", etc. There are also many euphemisms for menstruation, such as "having the painters in", being "on the rag", "flying the flag" (originally a euphemism for hanging out the bedsheet after a wedding night as a testament to the woman's virginity), or it simply being "that time of the month", Munster playing at home (Irish).
Euphemisms are also common in reference to sexual orientations and lifestyles. For example in the movie "Closer" the character played by Jude Law uses the euphemism "He valued his privacy" for being gay.
As an aside, the use of euphemisms for sexual activity has grown under the pressure of recent rulings by the Federal Communications Commission regarding what constitutes "decent" on-air broadcast speech. The FCC included many well known euphemisms in its lists of banned terms but indicated that even new and unknown coinages might be considered indecent once it became clear what they referenced. George Carlin's "Seven Words You Can't Say On TV" evolved into the "Incomplete List of Impolite Words", available in text and audio form, and contains hundreds of euphemisms and dysphemisms to genitalia, the act of having sex, various forms of sex, sexual orientations, etc. that have all become too pejorative for polite conversation, including such notables as "getting your pole varnished" and "eating the tuna taco". Carlin also did a bit on the uses of the word "fuck", originally only a dysphemism for the sex act but becoming an adverb, adjective, noun, etc. This "diversity" is also mentioned on in the movie The Boondock Saints after the main characters commit a mass murder of bosses followed by a violent joke on a friend who is in the Mafia.
Boccaccio in the Decameron
- "I say that it should no more be forbidden me to write them ["some wordlet or two freer", meaning sexual words] than it is commonly forbidden unto men and women to say all day long hole and peg and mortar and pestle and sausage and polony and all manner like things. --Epilogue to the Decameron by Boccaccio
Aretino in his Reasoniongs
A line of dialogue from Aretino's Reasonings, spoken by Antonia, the older and experienced woman, argues for the abandonment of sexual euphemisms and sexual symbolism in literature. She wants to call a spade a spade:
- "Speak plainly, and say cu', ca', po' and fo' [two-letter abbreviations for culo, cazzo, potta and fottere] ; otherwise thou wilt be understood by nobody, if it be not by the Sapienza Capranica, with thy rope in the ring, thy obelisk in the Coliseum, thy leak in the garden, thy key in the lock, thy pestle in the mortar, thy nightingale in the nest, thy dibble in the drill, thy syringe in the valve, thy stock in the scabbard, and the stake, crosier, parsnip, little monkey, the this, the that, the apples, the Missal leaves, the affair, the verbi gratia, the thing, the job, the story, the handle, the dart, the carrot, the root and the shit, mayst thou have it! ... I shall not say in the snout, since thou wilt walk on the tips of thy shoes. Well, say yes for yes, and no for no, or else keep it to yourself." --Aretino's Reasonings, tr. Peter Stafford.
- "It" as a euphemism for sexual intercourse
- Carnal knowledge for intercourse
- Sex worker for prostitute