I’ve been using all my reading time lately on books I’ve been asked to blurb, just needing a few lines suitable for back covers or Amazon quotes, not full-fledged reviews. The one I’m in the midst of now is something new to me, Terrence Aldon Shaw’s The Erotica Writer’s Thesaurus (with notes on usage.) But before I dive into discussion of this dense, lengthy (508 pages) work, I’ll just touch briefly on two of the novels. Both are by writers who have written for my anthologies, and I read them from beginning to end, but won’t reveal any spoilers here.
In brief, Potions, by R.G. Emanuelle, is an absorbing story along “mad scientist” lines, about a woman in Victorian-era Boston who had assisted her late husband in his experiments and is now determined to concoct a transformative potion of her own, but with complications when the widow of another scientist asks for help and together, with romantic attraction growing, they try to solve an increasingly dangerous mystery.
The other novel is science fiction, what I might call a step above “space opera”, although I’m no expert on that genre. Emily L. Byrne’s Medusa’s Touch is a thriller with a protagonist who pilots her spaceship via high-tech tentacular implants that let her mind plug in to its controls and feel at one with the ship and the galaxy. This may sound on the squicky side, but it turns out to work very well, and the far-future world-building and associated vernacular are convincing enough to keep the reader intrigued—plus there’s plenty of sex, both with and without tentacles.
Now back to the meatier matter of Shaw’s thesaurus, which is an amazing achievement, with research on terms used in thousands of sources that took many years to ferret out and organize. I haven’t read it word for word yet—there are so many of them!—but there are links at the beginning to the alphabetical headings, so one can search reasonably well for the terms that most interest one, which for most of us, of course, means the ones specifically concerned with sex. Shaw mentions in his introduction that he includes plenty of words that “at first glance, would seem to have little to do with erotica or the erotic. Take a closer look, though, at the type of words included here. Beyond the obvious words for body parts…one will also find: (1) Words representing a wide range of gesture and emotion. (2) Words that can help establish erotic context, that is; synonyms for various colors, articles of clothing and furniture, rooms and their fixtures, items of everyday use, and common expressions including expletives, “swear words,” and insults. (3) Words that can be employed to build erotic metaphors. (4) Commonly-used words and phrases (often overused to the point of cliché) encountered in erotic fiction (words like “hot”, “throbbing”, “big”, “round”) with long lists of creative alternatives.”
This makes the book all the more useful, and so do the extensive notes on usage at the back of the book, but come on, what words would you look up first? What words do you suppose I went for right away?
I’m not going to do much in the way of spoilers here, either, but there are some entries so overflowing with entertaining goodies that I’m going to share a single term each that stands out for me from a few categories, and leave you the fun of reading the rest when you get your hands (or maybe just one hand) on a copy of the book.
Let’s see. These aren’t necessarily in the order I searched. As an editor there are certain descriptive terms that I see too often, so I was especially curious as to what other choices were presented from Shaw’s research.
Let’s go for Nipples first. One term that I hadn’t come across is “bees” or “bazingas” (which is literary Portuguese for “bees.”) I’d actually seen the word “bazingas” but not known the translation. Bees. Huh. Ouch, even. I think I’d choose something else from his list, or make up some metaphor of my own.
The entry for Anus is quite a bit longer, and it’s hard to choose just one to share, but I think I’ll go with “Cadbury cul-de-sac.” You could have a lot of fun making a choice more to your own taste.
Onward to Aroused. Yes, I got stuck for a bit in the “A” section. What’s another way to say “aroused?” How about “Foaming at the gash?” Go ahead and choose your own.
Then we have Ass, of course. Some really great stuff here, but the one I find irresistible is “Dutch dumplings.” Oddly, well, appetizing. Or not. And for the closely associated Analingus, I’ll choose the British “bog snorkeling.”
For a change of pace, let’s look at the Attractive Man section. Or, no. let’s proceed to the Attractive Woman. I’m in the mood for rhyming, so I’ll go with “trouser arouser,” which could appeal to many men, too.
Proceeding to “B”, we have an extra-long and entertaining category, Breasts. Boy, have I seen a whole lot of words for breasts in submissions to my anthologies—“orbs” makes me groan, and not in a good way—but I’ve never seen “moon balloons” before, so that’s my choice, even though I would probably red-pencil it in a submission.
Not in alphabetical order any more, but let’s check out Penis. Wow, an even longer list than Breasts. This is a hard choice, of course. I was surprised at so many references to musical instruments—I’ve been around, but never noticed that much in the way of tuneful sound effects—but I’ll go with “spunk trumpet” just because I like the sound of that.
Next, of course, Vagina, not quite as long a list of choices as Penis, but that’s the Patriarchy for you. There are still plenty of terms, and I’m having trouble deciding, but I guess “squish mitten” caught my attention the most.
Finally, let’s tackle Masturbate. Since this is the last one I’ll do, I’ll cheat and pick two, first “audition the finger puppets” and then “strum the old banjo.” I’ll never think of the old song “Someone’s in the Kitchen with Dinah” the same way again.
In my editorial capacity I should point out that in fiction, sexual terminology, just like any other variety, has to fit the point-of-view character who uses it in speech or thought. Would your character say “spunk trumpet?” It would probably go over best in a humorous vein. Another thing to take into account is whether a reader will understand a term. “Dutch dumplings,” for instance, would need just the right context, and that too would call for a humorous interchange. Sometimes the simpler, traditional terms work best and are the least likely to throw a reader out of a sex scene.
All levity aside, this Thesaurus is a major work of reference that also manages to be highly entertaining, and I’ve only referenced a tiny fraction of the information here. It’s an aid to reading as well as writing; if you come across a term that puzzles you, just look it up here. And for we writers, whether or not we write erotica, chances are we can do it even better with the help of Terrance Aldon Shaw’s book.