Friday, 24 June 2011

Mustard-Pots and Modicums – the Failure of the Female Lexicon

In my previous post, I described a debate raging over on the History Hoydens blog about use of historical terms / archaic references in sex scenes. There is much debate about what is purple and what is acceptable, what jars and what steams but one thing is a constant: descriptions by women of their own body parts are difficult. Beyond difficult, it's fair to say they are politically loaded, rare and challenging.
Commenting on the blog, Maryan makes two points:
  1. The relationship should determine the quantity of description in the sex scene; in a well written narrative it should move the plot and characters along.
  2. Women haven't developed a language to describe "it" ('good girls don't).
Maryan suggests it's time for a new lexicon – I thought that was interesting. In Bringing Past Sex Back to Life is Complicated,

Eloisa James says "although eroticism is culturally, geographically and historically specific, we writers of historical romance sexualize history without regard for the specific epoch in which we set a novel.... we write sex from the point of view of our own contemporary attitudes and mores."

We can see this in the 1980s bodice-rippers, when in order to get it on a hero had to overpower the heroine practically against her will. Whilst traces of this linger in romances today, it's pretty much verboten. A quick squizz at the reviews on Smart Bitches Trashy Books will tell you that readers now aren't fond of the 'he made me do it and I just loved it storylines'. Romance heroines now are more likely to be doing the ripping; they're also more likely to remember to use protection.

More than any other genre of book, I believe that romances reflect contemporary values and perceptions. Perhaps one day we will see a lexicon developing within romantic fiction by women about their own vaginas and sexual organs and then, maybe we'll know that women finally feel ownership over their own bodies and sexuality.

On a less serious note, here's a back catalogue of terms used through the centuries to describe women's 'bits'. The ick factor is fairly high; though some have a certain hilarious charm (masterpiece and modicum quite tickled my fancy)!


Euphemism Century 
Garden C.16-20 
Hairyfordshire 1865 
Jacob's Ladder C.19-20 
Jam-pot C.19-20 
Ketch / Jack Ketch C.18-20 
Lobster-Pot C.19-20 
Mangle 1860 
Masterpiece C.18-20 
Modicum C.1660-1840 
Mouse-Trap 1850 
Mustard-Pot C.19-20 
Old hat C.17 
Oracle C.18
Pillock Hill C.16-17 
Rattle-ballocks C.18-20 
Tit C.18-20 
Tuzzy-Muzzy 1710 
Twait/Twat C.17-20 
Water-box C.19-20 


Andrea said...

I must ensure that my husband never finds this list. I gave him a little book of 18th century slag once, and his new nicknames for me were not appreciated!

Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

I'm sorry, they actually called the female part, the mouse-trap? That's hysterical.

Patricia said...

Wasn't Jack Ketch a hangman? I dread to think what that might symbolise. I assume mousetrap might be a reference to parson's mousetrap (marriage)

Meg McNulty said...

I swear, all of the above are true!

The mouse trap is because the gentleman's equivalent was known as a mouse Loving the idea of wicked 18th century rake offering to get his mouse out...

Like I say, time for a new lexicon. Andrea, I'm think "little book of 18th century SLAG" is a typo right??


Patricia said...

It could have been a book of 18th Century Slag. Isn't there a guide to the brothels of London referenced in a few books?

Meg McNulty said...

Ah you are meaning this: