Thursday, November 11, 2010

I Metaphor Lunch

Linguistically, as Lisabet observed at the start of the week, we transfer a lot of our language from the domain of food to the domain of sex. Lisabet picked the words: hungry, ravenous, craving, appetite, nibble, taste, savour, devour, replete, satisfied and satiated. It’s an extensive list of words but I know she could have picked more.

Being clinical for a moment, the consumption of food and the enjoyment of sex are both sensory experiences. One of the reasons I have always been puzzled by calorie-counters is because it seems so unnatural to relate the glorious sensation of consuming food with the uninteresting preoccupation of counting numbers. It’s like looking at the Mona Lisa and saying how many grams of blue paint Da Vinci used. No one cares and the detail is extraneous to any genuine enjoyment of the picture. Just like with calorie counting, the obsession with unimportant mathematical detail is the antithesis of a sensory experience.

But it’s the linguistic relationship between food and sex that fascinates me.

Fancy a sandwich? Regardless of your answer, are we talking about two slices of bread surrounding an edible filling (named after the Insatiable Earl, John Montagu, fourth earl of Sandwich)? Or are we suggesting a threeway with one lucky individual being pressed between two obliging members of their favoured gender? Would you want that sandwich as an aperitif? The main course? Or instead of a satisfying dessert? If you’re not completely satisfied after that banquet, we could always have seconds.

Did he pop her cherry? Is she getting juicy for him? Did he give her a cream pie? Did she get him to eat her kebab? Or did he just get his fingers covered in her honey? Have they both tasted forbidden fruit?

We consistently discuss sex and sexuality with the same terminology we use for food. He’s going to eat her out whilst she swallows him whole. She can be described as juicy, tender and ripe. He can be shown to be bringing the beef or the pork to the table. (Pork being a noun and a verb in sexual terminology but only a noun in food terminology. Surely no one would tell the chef: ‘I want you to pork me this lunchtime’ and expect a pork-based meal to be presented?)

A lot of the language used here is metaphorical. If we consider the rationale behind metaphors as a linguistic strategy for better understanding related concepts, it gives us an idea of how our society views sex. (Admittedly, this does suggest an acceptance of linguistic determinism, but anyone who is unclear on that concept will probably have given up on this particular blog entry by now). The only problem with linguistic determinism in this situation is that the interpretation will always be coloured by our personal prejudices.

Those of a religious bent will argue that tasting forbidden fruit is never a good thing. The health conscious will advocate the benefits of her being juicy or parts of his anatomy being plump and swollen. Those who disapprove of sex are likely to compare intimacy with junk food – both commodifying and diminishing the experience: he’s eating her fur burger; she’s gobbled up his greasy corndog.

Metaphors are a wonderful area of study because they reveal so much about the person using them. Looking at the metaphors relating to sex and food it’s surprising how often they can reveal a great deal about the situations and mindsets of the person using those tropes.

Ashley ‘starving-hungry’ Lister.


  1. Hey, Ash,

    I love it when you put on your professor hat!

    Trust you to take my starting point and push it to extremes, too!


  2. Ash - I second Lisabet's comment. I love the professor chapeau.

    Kathleen "like a cat with cream" Bradean


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