Wednesday, July 8, 2009

To Spooge or Not to Spooge

Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer through euphemisms
Or to be flung out of the story by unsexy word choices

I most humbly beg the Bard’s apologies. Now, there was a man who was a master at word choices. And he didn’t hesitate to play with the language, making nouns work as verbs and vice-versa.

But there it is. There are those words, like the aforementioned, that for me are so unsexy they fling me right out of the steamiest scene when I’m reading or writing. Yes, sometimes awkward, less-than-burning-a-hole-in-the-mattress sex is okay or may even be necessary to move the story forward and laughing in bed is great, but for me, the author’s word choices can really make or break a reading experience.

I know as m/m authors we do have it easy in some respects (if not in the pronoun department). I feel sorry for the writers of het or f/f erotica because call it a cunt or a pussy and you’re going to piss off lots of readers either way. At least we get to have cocks, pricks, dicks and balls making up a lot of our noun usage. Usually I figure if I stay away from mentioning rosebuds or starfish, I’m pretty safe in my descriptions of the receptive part of anal sex.

When it comes to mouths, especially when kissing, man, does it get tough. Is a wet cave a really sexy thought? Yet how many times can the words tongue, lips and mouth be used in a paragraph before a reader’s eyes glaze over?

I’m not claiming to be Saki (who supposedly agonized over each and every word in his writing—which is probably why he’s famous for his short stories), but in the course of putting the people in my head onto a page, I do give careful consideration to the connotations as well as the denotations of words, aiming for the best connection with as many readers as possible.

As if that weren’t enough fun to do in contemporary prose, I’ve been bitten by the urge to write historical m/m for a Christmas novella. Finding sexy, non-euphemistic (hey, they’re still guys), varied and historically accurate turns of phrase on a subject that doesn’t make it into most of the research books available on the nineteenth century is keeping my brain and my dictionary (the one with usage dates) very well-oiled. (Go ahead. Smirk at the double meaning. I’ll wait here.)

Even if I occasionally fail and provide readers with an unintentionally humorous and unsexy phrase, I do scrutinize my word choices in all different kinds of scenes, and remind myself that I can’t please everyone. One man’s spooge is another man’s spilled seed, after all. And in case you were curious, spunk (in that context) has been around since the early nineteenth century, though I don’t know if either of my heroes would be inclined to use it (the word I mean).

If you’re interested in my checking out my historical word choices, an unedited first chapter is available on my live journal.

8 comments:

M Jules Aedin said...

I'm very glad you told me 'spunk' is historically accurate; now I won't give authors my mental evil eye when I'm reading historical and that pops in, and I'm thinking, "What is this, a twenty-first century porn?" Now I'll just roll my eyes and say, "Really? I don't like that one in modern stories, either." *laugh*

I'm excited to know you're working on a historical. You haven't written anything less than gorgeous yet (well, that's published), so I'm really looking forward to it.

K.A. Mitchell said...

M Jules Aedin,

I'm glad I could clear that up for you. I consider Eric Partridge's work on historical slang to be my bible. His research is meticulous. Shit (in varying usages including "He is a shit")has been around since what we think of as modern English, as has fuck as a verb (only later as a noun or an adjective.)

I love your qualifier there at the end. I assure you I have penned some absolute stinkers that I hope will never see the light of day.

I'm enjoying my work on the historical. I hope readers (and my editor) will like it too.

Tam said...

Well, Erastes claims there are over 200 historical euphemisms for penis.

Here are some you might want to consider: Gaying instrument, lobcock, pego, plug tail, rascal, tickletail, whorepipe, arbor vitae, hair splitter, stretch

Personally whorepipe is my favorites. Not all that romantic however. Good luck.

JenB said...

If you want a really horrifying experience, look up "rosebud" on one of the porn sites (it's research!). Eeeeek. In that context it means way more than just "puckered hole".

Thank you for being so careful about your word choices. It shows in your writing, and discerning readers really appreciate it. I love nothing more than to read a story in which every word is intentional. :)

Louisa Edwards said...

Interesting...a historical novella? If the boys are British, that opens up a huge world of slang. Can't wait to read!

Zoe Nichols said...

My Fangirl instinct is right on when I add people to my Idols list :)

K.A. Mitchell said...

Hi Tam,

Thanks for the list. After consulting some reference, I've got quite a few euphemisms. One of my personal favorites is plum pruner, but that's not quite as useful in m/m.

Oh, JenB, unfortunately, I've already seen the other meaning of rosebud. Eye bleach, now please.

I'm glad my word choices have been working for you. I give it my best shot. And then I have a scalpel wielding critique group and a terrific editor.

K.A. Mitchell said...

Hi Louisa, I do enjoy the slang of Regency England. Given the genre, I don't know that I'll get to use all the wonderful things they came up to describe their "bits of muslin," but should be able to work in someone being "foxed" and "in his alts."

Hi Zoe, Awwww. You're so sweet.

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