Guest post: The restriction of language

By April 12th, 2010 1 Comment

Throughout April, Ardeur contributors will also be serving as guest bloggers. They look good wearing all those hats, trust me.

First up is Marella Sands, who wrote the Ardeur essay “Bon Rapports,” which playfully examines the lack of “sexy words for sexy things” while examining sex on the pages of Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series. Marella uses the same quick wit from her essay in her post below, although with a slightly different spin. I don’t know if you’d consider a male prostitute sexy, but it’d still be nice to have a word to use when considering him at all.

English is a fascinating language with a huge vocabulary.  The total number of words in English is disputed, but the OED lists over 600,000 and there may (or may not) be over 1,000,000 if you include every single bit of technobabble that no one uses outside their own specialized industries.  But we can at least say, without fear of contradiction, that there’s a helluva lot of words in English.  Which is often a great boon to a writer.

English not only has a sizable native word-list, but also warmly embraces neologisms and borrows freely from other languages.  This can sometimes mean an embarrassment of riches in one sense, but a head-scratching conundrum in another.  In your sex scene, will you use penis (Latin), phallus (Greek), schlong (Yiddish), weenie (German), rod (Old Norse), cock (also Old Norse), shaft (Old English), wang (unknown) or boner (baseball slang)?  Or are none of them really what you need to convey the particular mood of the scene?  Because English doesn’t always “go there.”

Even with 600,000+ words, including thousands of slang terms for sex and genitals, English simply does not have a word for everything.  For instance, there is no word that exactly describes a male prostitute.

Sure, you can use gigolo, a man who can be hired for sex.  But a gigolo is also a man hired as a dancing partner.  And a gigolo can be a man maintaining a long-term relationship with a woman who supports him financially (hence, more male gold-digger, less male prostitute).  The other word besides gigolo that one might use is catamite, though that is specifically a young boy being used by an older man.  Neither term truly covers a guy standing on a streetcorner picking up johns (or janes) for tricks.

Where, oh where, is the word for a male streetwalker?

Perhaps you, cher lecteur, have fought and lost battles wrestling with English’s vast and yet sometimes stubbornly useless vocabulary.  Share your piece of (ahem) tale here.

You can purchase “Bon Rapports” or Ardeur today! And for the next week you can read “Bon Rapports” in its entirety over on our essay portion of the site. Enjoy!

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1 Comment On "Guest post: The restriction of language"

  1. Christopher M

    there’s “hustler.”


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