Masturbation is rich in the area of euphemism. To use the clinical term masturbate is dysphemistic and, ordinarily, inappropriate.
“Do you have any plans for the weekend?”
“I think I’m just going to stay at home and masturbate, mother.”
Consequently, because our society consists of many societal taboos that remain on the fun side of what’s right and what’s wrong, we tend to allude to this solitary act with coy terms that aren’t quite so explicit.
The first that comes to mind is onanism. Kathleen’s already mentioned the great man himself this week but, for those who are still unsure: Onan is a character from the Book of Genesis (or a real life person whose exploits were recounted in the factual Book of Genesis, depending on your religious viewpoint). In a plot twist that’s only ever seen in poor soap operas and the bible, Onan was instructed by God to impregnate his late brother’s wife.
(Please don’t bother correcting me if I’ve got this wrong, or raise queries about the suspicious lack of deity/omnipotence that is a subtext to this story. My personal view on religion, and one which I know is shared by religious leaders the world over, is: when it stops making sense, claim that it perfectly illustrates your personal prejudices, and then maybe start a war).
Anway, Onan happily did the nasty with his recently widowed sister-in-law but he pulled out at the last minute. (The Bible doesn’t tell us whether or not he had used that favourite chat-up line for widows, “You look like you’ve been crying a lot. Would you like me to give you a facial?”) Anyway, as a consequence of Onan’s tactical withdrawal: his seed fell on stony ground; his sister-in-law didn’t get knocked-up; a clan died out; and God punished Onan for his spillage by killing him.
And, whilst I’m not trying to judge God, I personally think that’s something of a harsh punishment. Isn’t there a saying about no sense dying of spilt milk?
Anyway, whilst some suggest that onanism refers to the act of coitus interruptus, it is often used in the UK to imply the act of male masturbation. And, if Onan genuinely did exist, it’s a tragedy that he’s gone on to be remembered as the world’s foremost wanker. If nothing else, Onan’s name serves as a cautionary tale for those who say there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
It’s surprising to note the gender imbalance in terms relating to masturbation. Whilst the clinical term refers, ostensibly, to self-stimulation by either gender, the euphemisms tend to focus on male masturbation. Whacking off, rubbing one out, jerking off (which, through a process called back-formation, gives us the pejorative jerk), all allude visually to penile stimulation and ejaculation. Assuming that men and women have roughly comparative sex drives (and I don’t think the disparity is so great), this bias tends to suggest that either women are more discreet about their solitary sex habits, or men are simply more well-known for bashing the bishop.
Admittedly there are terms for female masturbation, such as jilling, gusset-typing and flicking the bean, but the majority of these are comparatively recent innovations in the vocabulary. The richness of current masturbation euphemism comes in the form of a type of Mad-Words construction in the following format:
BLANK-ing the BLANK
Examples include: yanking the crank; choking the chicken; tugging the slug; and shaking the snake.
I’m particularly impressed with the poetic devices employed here: the alliteration and the assonance are especially stylish but I’m also amazed by the reliance on metaphor. In the aforementioned examples we see the male genitalia compared with cranks, chickens, slugs and snakes.
I’d be interested to see comments today where readers have constructed their own new and original euphemisms.
So, please put your best euphemisms in the box below: in a ‘BLANK-ing the BLANK’ format. Comments will be appraised for their poetic qualities, visual imagery and literary merit. And I’ll be checking back throughout the day.