Purple prose is one of my personal pet peeves in regards to romance reading. As defined, purple prose is overly descriptive and flowery writing. While not limited to love scenes, purple prose in romance writing is most often associated with lovemaking.
Support our sponsorsI think it’s important to talk about purple prose and love scenes for a couple of reasons, one of which is that it is the manner in which these scenes are written that cause so many “outsiders” to diss the entire genre. Beyond that, however, they are a pet peeve for many, many readers. Finally, it’s kind of a kick to poke fun at the excesses of our beloved genre, isn’t it? If we can’t have a sense of humor about such things, it only adds to the stereotypes surrounding romance readers, writers, and the genre in general.
As such, we have conducted annual purple prose parody contests since 1996. We’ve also done column segments on “silly sex” a number of times, and concluded the time was ripe to create a Dictionary of Silly Sex. When I took a look at the snippets gathered, though, I realized it was more of an encyclopedia rather than a dictionary. Included in this encyclopedia are excerpts from those columns at AAR where silly sex was discussed as well as words and phrases used for various terms related to the human body and lovemaking. This page will remain open for your submissions and we will periodically focus on a body part or some “part” of the act of lovemaking itself in an effort to “grow” this page over time. (Feel free to also use our internal search engine [I’ve included one on the bottom of this page for your convenience] using the terms “silly sex” and/or “purple prose” for books our reviewers have found to handle this delicate issue of prose either well or badly.)
Before going further, I’d like to caution you: please don’t try to work through this entire feature in one sitting – it’s obviously quite purple and a little bit goes a long way. I’ve formatted it into several pages in the hopes that you will only tackle one page at a time.
I invite those of you who are unfamiliar with either the entries in our Purple Prose Parody contests or the reader/author comments as provided in corresponding issues of Laurie’s News & Views/At the Back Fence to check them out. Here’s a handy table for you to take those links now (these are all “jump” links that will open a new window in your browser):
[fusion_accordion divider_line=”no” class=”” id=””][fusion_toggle title=”Once May Be Enough? (From LN&V, April 22, 1996)” open=”no”]Once May Be Enough? (From LN&V, April 22, 1996):
While I agree that too much of a good thing is still too much, I’m all for the occasional gratuitous love scene. Meredith and I agree, however, on the over-used euphemisms and terms that have been mentioned before in this column – what I call “silly sex”. We both find it annoying when a love scene reads as though “the author is consulting a romance phrase book.” She adds, “When I first saw Teresa Medeiros refer to her heroine’s erect nipples as ‘aching buds’ I thought, ohhhh, I want aching buds too. But now that I’ve seen aching buds in so many books, I just skim over it to get to the story. Jaded, aren’t I?”[/fusion_toggle][fusion_toggle title=”The Purple Tulip Opens the Dewy Petals. . . (From LN&V, May 4, 1996)” open=”no”]The Purple Tulip Opens the Dewy Petals. . . (From LN&V, May 4, 1996):
A few brave souls have ventured forth to reveal their thoughts on this touchy topic. Let’s all loosen up a bit first with some (really) silly sex. My top two candidates for all-time silliest sex terms are “manroot” and “honey-pot”.
From Dagna K. comes this snippet: “My vote for silly/overused words that will ruin a sex scene: ‘throbbing,’ ‘pulsating,’ and ‘turgid’ (which seems to belong in a dirty limerick that starts “There once was a floozy named Ingrid. . .”). Any two together are enough to make me throw the book across the room. But then, I find straightforward descriptions much more erotic than purple prose.”
From author Karen Harbaugh: “I think Ken Follett referred to the male member as a ‘purple tulip.’ – Uh huh. I’m not letting something that looks like a purple tulip get near me!”
From Julia: “There are a lot of funny metaphors to designate the genitals and I have a lot of fun with them: there are a lot of throbbing shafts or manhood, plenty of turgid nipples (BTW they have replaced the very famous -rosy peaks- in older Harlequins ), but they don’t spoil the love scene for me. The best for me has always been one that has been in circulation for a long time in Harlequin Presents books: the guy who has hard thighs. Now, that’s a displacement that always makes me laugh.”
Tina, “whose throbbing brain cells are pulsing with thought”, says that references to throbbing or pulsing manhood makes her “think of a cartoon character”. And, Leslie McClain, editor and publisher of The Romance Reader, says, “If I have to read about petals opening one more time, I think I’ll barf right on someone’s manroot!”[/fusion_toggle][fusion_toggle title=”Vegatation (From LN&V, June 16, 1996)” open=”no”]Vegatation (From LN&V, June 16, 1996):
I’d like to award the most hilarious silly sex entry to Maya, who doesn’t recall the name of the book but does remember this: “Her nipples stabbed through the fabric like gold-embossed invitations.”
Readers Ilana and Kerry submitted the following:
“We’d like to submit a few silly sex terms. . . Our favorite term for the male, ahem, ‘member” is also ‘manroot’. In fact, the first time we discovered this stupid word, we were so amused that we drew a face on a Daikon radish and name it ‘manroot’ – he also had a condom hat!. . . Anyway, our favorites for women’s, ahem, ‘parts’ (include): dew-moistened petals (which unfurl at his deft touch); rock-hard ruby nipples (ouch!); and pouty nether lips (uh-huh).”
Samantha hopes our heroines would be having “too good of a time to think up 20 euphemisms for his penis.” She also asks, “What do these people use as erotica, a thesaurus?” Jill votes for throbbing manhoods, pouting lower lips, and “the nubbin” as the silliest of sex terms. She makes the point, however, that “what else is there to use? The formal clinical terms. . . are just too cold.”
I tend to agree with Jill about the clinical terms, but, what to do? We don’t want to go back to the days of the Hayes office, when one foot had to remain on the floor at all times during a film’s love scenes, do we? Do we just want the allusions of love-making, with “candles going out, oceans crashing against the shore and the like?”
There must be some middle ground between “throbbing shaft” and “penis” and “chestnut patch of pleasure” and “vagina”, although some readers would prefer the cold, hard terminology. Certainly authors such as Susan Johnson are using the “real” words and finding an audience for them. Some readers appreciate the euphemisms. Guylaine believes some authors are parodying silly sex in their very own love scenes: “Amanda Quick can usually do very funny sex scenes. The ‘shores of transcendent love’ scene in Scandal where she makes fun of metaphor in lust is hilarious.”[/fusion_toggle][fusion_toggle title=”Guess Who? (From LN&V, October 1, 1996 and November 18, 1996)” open=”no”]Guess Who? (From LN&V, October 1, 1996 and November 18, 1996):
“He could feel her tensing within, and then her quivering little flutters of satisfaction as she crowned the head of his manhood with her own sweet honeyed libations of pleasure. The warmth of it sent him out of control, and his own love juices burst forth in greater measure, searing her hidden garden with an intensity of ecstasy. . . .””I could not allow anyone else. . .to plow a furrow in your love fields, my darling”
“Your love juices have begun to flow, sweetheart.”
Most readers guessed correctly – the author of that purple prose was Bertrice Small. A few of the incorrect answers included Susan Johnson, Suzanne Forster, and Thea Devine.
Reader Pat was so disgusted with the snippet that she expressed outrage that the book was published. She commented that, “there should be a law against authors of this caliber being allowed to publish the sort of trash she seems to delight in writing. How could anyone read this womans’ work? You certainly have my sympathy because you had to read it in order to review it. This garbage belongs on the bottom of a bird cage.”[/fusion_toggle][fusion_toggle title=”The Martians are Coming! (From LN&V, October 1, 1996)” open=”no”]The Martians are Coming! (From LN&V, October 1, 1996):
Would you believe nipples as sentient little tips (all I can imagine are tiny little Martians)
How about nipples as knobs (can you imagine opening a door with one of them? — yikes, that would smart!)
Throbbing and pulsating breasts (doesn’t that happen when you get a breast infection?)
Naked globes (I’m getting dizzy from all that spinning!)
Breasts as cone-shaped orbs (do you get a picture of ice-cream cones floating in space?)
Ever imagine a chestnut patch of pleasure?
Or a silken love cave?
What do you think about that ever popular mound of Venus?[/fusion_toggle][fusion_toggle title=”Horn O’Plenty? (From LN&V, November 18, 1996)” open=”no”]Horn O’Plenty? (From LN&V, November 18, 1996):
“I can’t remember the author but someone referred to a part of the female anatomy as pouting nipples. Quick. . . someone cheer them up!!!” — Mystique
Reader Gretchen, after our discussion of “nubbin,” discovered that, in addition to being a small lump, nubbin also describes an imperfect ear of corn or an undeveloped fruit, prompting this response from Tonyia: “Thanks, Gretch. Now when I read the word nubbin in a romance, I’ll automatically think of undeveloped fruit. How can I ever thank you for that mental picture?” To which Gretchen replied, “Hey! It’s not my fault. Why don’t you think of an imperfect ear of Indian corn? (Maybe it’s good for popping?)- To which all I can say, is, “ouch!”
Meredith, whom I agree with in our mutual disdain for mound of Venus and its variants, wanted to add a couple more silly sex phrases to the discussion, including woman’s cave and mound of love. The funniest euphemism she’s read “was in Carole Nelson Douglas’ Lady Rogue. It described the heroine’s pubic hair as a Van Dyke, as in those pointy beards.”
While we’re on the subject of mounds, Eleanor wanted to remind me that it is based on a “real” term – mons veneris. I knew that, but knowing it makes it all the more silly to me. I mean, do you imagine a man in the throes of passion saying “I love to touch your mons pubis”?
Samantha’s friends asked her to add Love Grotto to the list. She added, “By the way, with all that throbbing, pulsating, hardening, and thrusting going on, it makes me wonder if Robin William wasn’t right when he said that God’s biggest joke on men was giving them a brain and a penis and not enough blood to operate both at the same time.’”[/fusion_toggle][fusion_toggle title=”Ticket to the G-Spot (From LN&V, January 10, 1997)” open=”no”]Ticket to the G-Spot (From LN&V, January 10, 1997):
Selena was intrigued when I mentioned I tried skimming a Susan Johnson novel recently, only to trade it in after reading a scene involving the hero, the heroine, and a string of jewels. That was too much for me. Although Jeri believes Johnson’s books are a series of sex scenes strung together by plot, she does thinks Johnson’s sex scenes are just the ticket to ride, “I prefer a mixture of love, lust and laughter. I want the characters to get sweaty. I prefer references to penis, cock, erection, or even shaft to pillar of manhood.”[/fusion_toggle][fusion_toggle title=”Cup Runneth Over (From LN&V, April 20, 1997)” open=”no”]Cup Runneth Over (From LN&V, April 20, 1997):
Jeanne wrote me about Linda Lael Miller’s Knights and the description of the heroine’s, ahem, private parts: “He tongued her with one long, lapping stroke, and she uttered a lusty shout, setting her heels into his shoulders and raising herself to him, a chalice of flesh.” As Jeanne added, “His cup runneth over, I guess. (I keep thinking how wide the mouth of a chalice is, though, and it kinda spoils the mental image I have of the recently deflowered Gloriana.)”
Diane once read a romance where the hero’s eyes “were glued to her nipples”, creating a lovely picture in her mind’s eye. In another romance she read, “He put his hands in his pockets to get a hold of himself.”[/fusion_toggle][fusion_toggle title=”How Many References Can You Count? (From LN&V, May 16, 1997)” open=”no”]How Many References Can You Count? (From LN&V, May 16, 1997):
(Regarding my “sample” entry in the first Purple Prose Parody Contest)
“I started out my day with the best laugh I’ve had in a week, reading your “love scene”. You managed to include so many of the words I can’t stand in these scenarios; petals, manroot, etc. The funny thing is, it reads just like some of the published love scenes I’ve read in the past!
“It doesn’t make sense that your love scene was removed! Compared to the similar scenes I’ve read in romance novels, it was relatively tame.
“I regret that you had to take the scene out, and I can only hope that many readers will find it in your archives and get the same enjoyment out of it that I did.
“You know, this isn’t the first time I’ve been perplexed by someone’s attitudes toward love scenes. I believe that for some reason the rules are different for some authors, and they’re able to get away with silly, cliched work — praised for it, in fact — when it’s obvious they put very little effort into it. Your love scene was a dead-on lampooning of the silly sex I’ve read all too often.”
“Not to knock your effort, but I was so relieved when I found out it was a parody and not by someone real! The dreadful part is, that I recognized some of those lines and had an author in mind!!!!!!!
“I didn’t think it was anywhere near as explicit as some of the exerpts I have read in Romantic Times. An example would be Bertrice Small’s little passage on putting grapes up her ying yang and having the hero suck them out.”
Here’s a particularly hilarious morsel I came across while reading the purple prose-laden Dream Lover: “You’ve the sauciest round bottom I’ve seen in many a year, and the outline of your up-thrust breasts shows through the cambric shirt with impudence.” Virginia (Henley), do you really think Irish men speak like that or were you being funny apurpose?”[/fusion_toggle][fusion_toggle title=”Male Paraphenelia (From LN&V, September 1, 1997)” open=”no”]Male Paraphenelia (From LN&V, September 1, 1997):
Reader Marion recently sent me some silly sex phrases she’d come across. While her boyfriend thinks she should have better things to do with her time than make out lists like this one, frankly, I’m glad she did.
No comments are necessary, just enjoy as I did, what she sent:
The male organ:
Lingam (Virginia Henley’s Seduced)
Man meat (can’t remember for obvious reasons)
Dagger/spear/knife (some old medievals)
For “accessories”, as Marion oh-so-delicately phrased it:
Storehouse of the nectars of love (some Zebra Lovegram)
Sperm house (talk about directness!)
For the product:
The honey of love
Hot, silky honey
Volcano gush (this never fails to make me laugh!)
And for adjectives:
Nodding in a show of appreciation
Engorged to point of explosion
Dancing to the tune of her music (eh???)
[/fusion_toggle][fusion_toggle title=”Got the Mental Picture? (From LN&V, Nov 20, 1997)” open=”no”]Got the Mental Picture? (From LN&V, Nov 20, 1997):
Reader Gillian Webster recently sent me a couple of snippets from Joan Hohl’s A Window On Tomorrow that should be entered into the silly sex hall of fame. Readers who enjoyed the Purple Prose Parody should get a kick out of these:
Gillian indicated that in the first snippet, Andrea is admiring Paul’s body. She is ashamed to be ogling him, but he tells her not to feel shame and mentions that he’s been admiring her body as well:
“Your body is beautiful. Your skin is soft and silky,” he whispered. “I feel no shame in admiring the gentle contour of your slender hips, the delicate curve of your breasts and the appealing cast of your lovely features.” He lay on the blanket beside her. His voice was the only part of him that touched her. “And what shame should I feel in admiring that most feminine part of you, that exquisite mound of utter beauty and ultimate, infinite pleasure?”
Gillian wrote that, in the second snippet, they have recently had sex and are getting ready for a second round. We pick up the action mid-sentence:
. . . at that instant she felt Paul’s life force leap inside her. Her half-closed eyes flew open and she gave a little cry of surprise.
“Yes, my Andrea,” he said in that soft tone that sent shivers tumbling through her. “The pathway to paradise beckons once more.” Lowering his head, he whispered against her parted lips, “Will you ride the pathway with me?”
[/fusion_toggle][fusion_toggle title=”Aren’t They All? The Flat Male Nipple (From LN&V, May 15, 1998)” open=”no”]Aren’t They All? The Flat Male Nipple (From LN&V, May 15, 1998):
Interestingly enough, this whole nipple thing took off in a way I never imagined. Kate Smith’s entry into the Purple Prose Parody Contest paid homage to it. Many readers wrote in about it. But funniest of all is that readers responded to it very differently than I expected.
Perhaps I should explain. Nearly every romance I’ve ever read refers to the “flat male nipple.” When talking about a man, why do authors refer to nipples as “male”? Isn’t that a given? Don’t all men have male nipples? Furthermore, it goes without saying, does it not, that nipples on men are flat? My peeve abut the “flat male nipple” is that all three words are always used together to describe a man’s nip. Surely Enamorata could “flick her finger against his nipple” just as easily as Dahlia could “rub his flat male nipple.”
Instead of commenting on this, however, readers focused on the flat male nipple as an erogenous zone. I’ll never divulge whether or not this is a hot spot for my own dear husband, but apparently there was a great deal of surveying going on in the households of romance readers after this question “perked up.”
A reader who may not have known how free-wheeling and open we are here anonymously asked, “I had to laugh out loud about the ‘flat male nipple’ comment. I have never been able to read this phrase without wincing. Which brings me to a delicate question ….Do men really have sensation there? I have read countless seduction scenes designating this area as a male pleasure spot, but I am left highly puzzled since my experience has been to the contrary – I have been married 11 years. Is this a legitimate occurrence or just a tool for beefing up a love scene?”
Cathy wondered as well whether the flat male nipple is “actually a hot spot on a male.” She added, “My husband says no, it just aggravates the hell out of him. Is he the only one that feels that way, or did some author come up with it and it sounded good, so they others used it, too? Glad you brought that point up.”
To which Katsy replied, “I asked hubby about the flat male nipple question and he looked at me as though I hadn’t quite recovered from my recent bout with flu and fever. This, I assume, would be a definite ‘no’ from hubby. Personally, when that part of the male anatomy is mentioned in a romance as though it were a ‘hot spot’, I always felt I was missing something.”
Stacey shared that “my husband does not want me anywhere near this place – in no uncertain terms.”[/fusion_toggle][fusion_toggle title=”The “P-word” and “Love Grotto”: (From LN&V, November 15, 1998)” open=”no”]The “P-word” and “Love Grotto”: (From LN&V, November 15, 1998):
Sandra Lee’s debut romance, Love at First Sight, showed off her earthy sense of humor wonderfully well. Her coarse references to bodily functions, body parts, and bodily fluids worked better here than in nearly any other romance I’ve read before. She even introduced a couple of terms I’d never seen used before, which brings us to our latest topic, one which I’m calling the p-word.
Since I began writing this column, we’ve had discussions about sexuality in romance, including purple prose or what I deem silly sex (feel free to peruse the index for my columns for silly sex discussions). But there’s a flip side to silly sex, and I’d like to talk about them together. The “p-word,” of course, is penis. I’ve seen many words or phrases used in romance novels to describe the penis, including, very rarely, penis. Other words/phrases have included: his sex, manhood, erection, arousal, member (engorged or otherwise), manroot, c_ck, hard length of him, velvet steel, as stiff and hard as a pike, rod, tallywhacker, evidence of his masculinity, turgid shaft. There are more, of course, but these are some that spring immediately to mind.
For some reason, the word “penis” always makes me laugh. I laughed when I was a child learning the correct words for body parts, and sometimes it still makes me laugh. Author Susan Kay Law says that she doesn’t like the word “penis” in love scenes because “It’s such a whiney little word. Pee – Ness – Ick.”
Mary Lynn disagrees. She says, “Penis is a perfectly lovely English word. I don’t mind seeing it at all, and it’s far less intrusive than the dread ‘manroot’.”
“Manroot” is a term I think Bertrice Small uses in every one of her books, and it’s a word always guaranteed to make me laugh. Author Marsha Canham says, “Every time I read the word ‘manroot’ to describe a penis, I instantly visualize a crooked, carrot-like object with a long hairy root at the narrow end. And if I see the words ‘throbbing manhood’, I tend to throft the book then and there, or if a man ‘mounts’ a woman, or if that woman has a ‘downy vulva’. As for the word ‘poked,’ the best I saw was ‘poked her in her portal’.”
The word “c_ock” is one I’ve read in medievals, other historicals, and contemporaries, and it is always a jarring term. It works best as a shocker, and when authors use it in love scenes, it takes me right out of the fantasy.
Author Jean Ross Ewing has seen “privy member” used; it was a legal term at one time. But the most “out there” phrase she’s come across is “dangly bits”. And, author Barbara Samuel aka Ruth Wind says, “For my own work, I still pretty much to ‘member’ or ‘sex’. Penis doesn’t bother me, but speaking purely from aesthetic terms, it’s not a particularly nice word. ‘Nipples’ is another word that isn’t particularly appealing. I end up using it more often than not simply because I can’t think of any alternatives that don’t sound silly.”
Then, of course, there are the terms and phrases used for a woman’s “nether regions.” I don’t think I’ve seen vagina used, but I have seen clitoris, which is just too clinical for me. Some other terms/phrases I’ve seen include: her portal of pleasure, her womanly curls (which I often see in my mind’s eye as ringlets like those Shirley Temple wore – not a very arousing picture!), moist petals, dewy femininity, plump folds, woman’s mound, and honeypot.
Victoria believes the worst phrase she’s seen as a description of a woman’s “private parts” is “mossy grotto” – she didn’t care for it. Karen thinks the old standby “honeypot” is the “worst euphemism” she’s ever read.
There is generally less description of “womanly regions burning with want” and the “savage burning in her exposed womanly area” than there are of men’s aching, bursting loins, although great attention is paid to women’s breasts in romance novels. Breasts have been known to throb, have pouting nipples or hard tips, and come in variety of sizes and shapes. Something that has always amazed me is the variety in color of nipples – some are rosy, others are peachy, still others are the colors of plums, raspberries, or strawberries. Sounds like a fruit salad, doesn’t it?
[/fusion_toggle][fusion_toggle title=”Doing the Deed and the Come Conundrum (From LN&V, November 15, 1998)” open=”no”]Doing the Deed and the Come Conundrum (From LN&V, November 15, 1998):
What about “the deed” itself? What comes to mind immediately are these phrases: “the dance as old as time,” “filling her tight sheath,” and “impaling himself into her femininity.” (I won’t even begin to get into the phrases used when the hero takes the heroine’s virginity, but feel free to do so yourself.)
About the culmination of “the deed,” author Teresa Hill (aka Sally Tyler Hayes) says, “I was very happy, as I was doing the galleys for my next book, to see that my heroine gets to ‘come.’ Actually, that my hero gets to talk about wanting to make her ‘come.’ No ‘climax.’ No other silly euphemisms for it. Honestly, does anyone ever say the word ‘climax’ in that context? I just can’t see him giving her a wicked grin and saying, ‘I want to make you climax.’” It’s silly, but I think this is the first of my heroines who got to come. Ten books, and I finally have a heroine who’s satisfied. ”[/fusion_toggle][fusion_toggle title=”Anatomy of the Anatomy (From LN&V, March 1, 1999):” open=”no”]Anatomy of the Anatomy (From LN&V, March 1, 1999):
More on Words – Anatomy of the Anatomy: Back in November, we began a discussion of various words to describe male and female body parts. I started the discussion about the word “penis” and the term “to come,” and readers and authors continued the discussion, expanding upon it and naming words and phrases they’d seen used to describe the, ah, male member and the act of completion. Of course, my own twisted mind wants to know who came up with “orgasm” or “coming” to describe said orgasm altogether? We know that Thomas Crapper invented the flushable toilet. Where did orgasm come from (she wrote with a perfectly straight face)?
Readers are never shy about stating their preferences in this arena, so let’s continue that discussion now:
Dee wrote that she prefers realism to euphemism. “I don’t want to be in the middle of reading a steamy love scene and find out that the heroine has decided to ‘cup the masculine sacs’ of the hero. I burst out laughing. I don’t mind the ‘p’ word since, basically, that is what it is. I have the ‘manroot’ issue as well (/wp-content/uploads/oldsiteimages of carrots and beets – yuck!) Sex is an okay word but it seems kind of impersonal in the context, as though the body part is behaving independently of the character (course, in some cases it is). Personally speaking, C_ck needs to be used when the pov is from the hero. That is what most men call it – especially in contemporaries. I have yet to find a word for the female anatomy that doesn’t, if I concentrate too long, make me giggle. And as far as the act of completion goes, that is tricky business. How does one actually verbalize such a unique experience? Climax is a place in Saskatchewan – people should “come.” The word can be very sensual if used properly. Granted this is all coming from a reader who likes more spice than nice in her romances, but even the racy ones can be destroyed if the adjectives get too ridiculous.”
Mark, our resident humor expert, calls our culture Dionysian Puritanism, which sounds about right to me. He commented on Amanda Quick’s use of imagery and language based on the characters themselves in her love scenes. He wrote, “In Dangerous, there was the lock/key and fire/ice language. In Desire, it was flowers and scents. In Deception the language was of the sea and exploration. The character theme distracts from or adds to the basic bodily language.”
Although I’ve enjoyed many an earlier Amanda Quick love scene, the one in Mystique referring to “the entrance to her secret citadel” seemed altogether silly to me. On the other hand, in Jayne Castle’s Zinnia (Amanda Quick and Jayne Castle are both pseudonyms for Jayne Ann Krentz), I didn’t care for the reference to proud nipples or to the use of clitoris. Proud nipples seem silly; clitoris seems clinical.
An anonymous reader prefers “penis” for nonsexual situations; when in the midst of a love scene, “manhood” and “his sex” works better for her. In the right context, she wrote, “I kind of like “c_ck. Susan Johnson uses it well. It’s a word best used by hardened characters (you know what I mean – those men and women who have had a lot of sex without love).”
Reader Nora had this to say: “There is definitely a hierarchy of male reproductive organ euphemisms in romance. It is ok for men to say whatever about their parts, especially when they are around other guys and being all manly. Whores get to use an extensive vocabulary, too. But God forbid that our litle heroine should say anything other than breathless metaphors. Personally, I prefer penis to some of the other things that I’ve read and for once I would like a heroine who has at least some clue about male anatomy.”
The author Kat Mallory doesn’t mind the word “c_ck,” especially if a male character describing himself uses the term. She added, “This is something one of the characters in my books does. After all, when a man refers to himself, he usually tells it like it is. Right? However, I agree with Laurie that it does take the “romance’ out of a lovemaking scene to use such a vivid description. Especially by a female character.”[/fusion_toggle][fusion_toggle title=”The Come Conundrum (From LN&V, March 1, 1999)” open=”no”]The Come Conundrum (From LN&V, March 1, 1999):
Queasy can’t stand the term “to come” at all. “It is so distasteful,” she writes, “that even in a clinical setting I can only bring myself to whisper it. It causes such an unpleasant mental image that I can’t read it without wincing, blushing or vomiting. A dignified couple should by all means ‘climax’. It is rude and coarse to do otherwise.”
While some readers find coming too vulgar, others find it that way only when spelled as “cum.” I’d have to agree; “coming” is fine but “cuming” is vulgar. As for dignity in romance? I couldn’t disagree more. Sex is not dignified; it is wonderfully wet, squishy, and altogether funky. To picture a man and a woman making dignified love seems rather sad to me and connotes sexual intercourse solely for the purposes of procreation.[/fusion_toggle][fusion_toggle title=”A Couple of Questions (From LN&V, April 1, 1999)” open=”no”]A Couple of Questions (From LN&V, April 1, 1999):
Anyone who can explain “pouting” or “pouty” breasts, please do! And, aren’t heroes’ afraid they’ll put an eye out when they settle down to feast on those “diamond-hard” nipples?
Answers to These Questions (From the LN&V message board for April 1, 1999):
From Candy: Pouty breasts never made much sense to me either… I associate pouting with puckering up and smooshing your mouth out, and while it can be sexy if done right, I can’t imagine it would be particularly attractive on breasts. In fact, it would be well-nigh impossible, if you think about it. Perky, yes; pouty, no. And as for ‘diamond hard’… I don’t know about other people out there, but I don’t think it’s particularly attractive (or comfortable) for nipples to get that hard. And speaking about pointy objects, what’s up with ‘cones of flesh’? Yuk! Globes (a word favored by Karen Robards, I discovered) is another silly sex word for me. They bring to mind hard, cold, round objects. Unless the heroine has had a boob job, I don’t think ‘globes’ really describe breasts. The hero might get concussion if he slipped and fell against the heroine’s chest, to my thinking… You know why I think authors (and not just romance novelists, either) get silly with breasts? They’re trying too hard to hide the fact that they’re basically globs of fat with some glands thrown in. Now that’s sexy! And can someone explain to me how hard, continued thrusting can drive a virgin to ecstacy? I mean, owwwwieee….. I know the hero is supposed to be a studmuffin, but couldn’t he demonstrate his prowess later? Like, when the heroine isn’t bleeding on him?
From Mary Lynne: That’s the exact problem I have with globes. They make me think of breast implants. As to the virgin in passion on her first experience as the hero drives into her over and over – oh, please. It’s become a cliche. I actually give credit to the author who’s willing to *avoid* this lately.
From Alb: Diamond-hard nipples makes me think of precious jewels and pierced nipples. I’d be afraid he’d swallow one. And how fun would that be to have ‘em sucked? Ouch.
From Katarina: As for diamond-hard nipples, I can’t get rid of the picture of uncut gems being licked into their sparkly, cut shape by the hero. Now that’s an abrasive tongue! Or should be think that “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend?”
[/fusion_toggle][fusion_toggle title=”Mine Never Have. . . Pulsated, That Is (From LN&V, May 15, 1999)” open=”no”]Mine Never Have. . . Pulsated, That Is (From LN&V, May 15, 1999):
There was also lots and lots of sex in this book (Patty Salier’s The Sex Test), most of it out-and-out silly. Here are a few of the silliest descriptions: “naked globes,” “chestnut patch of pleasure,” “pulsating breasts,” – well, you get the point. If reading a love scene makes me grab a pen, it’s just not working.[/fusion_toggle][fusion_toggle title=”Ouch! (From ATBF, June 1, 2000)” open=”no”]Ouch! (From ATBF, June 1, 2000)
“He plucked pert, woolen-covered nipples into prompt obedience.” – Corbin’s Fancy, Linda Lael Miller
Oh, those wacky Corbin boys! Linda Lael Miller came to prominence in the mid-1980’s with the Corbin family quartet – we’ve even got it listed on our Family Series list. So when I ran across the books at the library and UBS, I decided to give them a try. I’d read LLM before, both in hardcover and paperback. Her most recent releases have been far tamer than the books she used to write. Comparing her recent The Women of Primrose Creek: Bridget to those older books (I’m speaking of her historicals and time travels), her writing has gotten better. Apparently when all those love scenes are removed, there’s a need to write an actual story. Because, you see, those Corbin books are so filled with plucked nipples that I felt like covering my own with Band-Aids after reading them.
I was going to read the entire quartet before commenting on it, but after the third book, I realized I was beat. I could no longer read these books wherein the couples fell in love immediately yet fought incessantly while surrounded by explosions, leprosy, stabbings, shooting, etc. We’ve all read romances where the couples fight constantly, but usually by the time they’ve each realized they love one another, things calm down. Not so with these books – both hero and heroine fall in lustful love immediately, and when they’re not boinking like bunnies, they’re fighting like mad. Maturity is not a hallmark among this clan.
What am I missing here? LLM’s Princess Annie is a romance I remember fondly, but if I read it again today, would I find it as unappealing as I found the Corbin books? Until recently, Miller’s style was so sexual that her characters practically came to orgasm from a heated look or baited breath. Yes, I think her new books, while still not all that good, are filled with better writing than her older ones, and the toned down love scenes are more erotic than in those earlier books with page after page of plucking and suckling. There is so much nipple action going on that in Corbin’s Fancy, the hero at one point must soothe the heroine’s disobedient little nubbins of love with Bag Balm. While I was reading, I wondered what happened when nipples were disobedient. Would my own husband shout, “Bad, bad, nipple!”?
Since two very recent issues [summer, 2000] of At the Back Fence (August 15th and September 1st) had lengthy sections devoted to silly sex, I won’t include excerpts here, but will instead provide links to both columns: August 15th ATBF and September 1st ATBF.
Much of what was posted to our ATBF Message Board after that August column was reported in the September column, but my request for words and phrases for use in this dictionary has yet to be reported. That’s what follows, as well as this small excerpt from the September 1st column:
Lis was kind enough to create a list of some of the euphemisms she’s seen. I’d like to share it with you now:
Reached her zenith
Crested in waves
Brought to pleasure
Crumbled over him (this I envision with much laughter because I envision cake or doughnuts somewhere in the mix)
Orgasm went on. And on. And on.
Rippling, pulsing, pressure and pleasure muscles clenched
Warmth flooded her
Took his release
Thrust until spent
Burst inside her like a tidal wave (hope she was still somewhere in the vicinity following the big one)
Expanded and released
Spurted into her deep
Growl of release
It overtook him
His release came hard and fast
Swelled and exploded – yikes!
Dancing toward the shore (Lord help me but that sounds rather too tame)
Bucked and came
Milked dry by the rhythmic pulse of her climax’ (Beats dancing to the shore)
Exploded in release
Paroxysm of pleasure
Shattered reflexive tremors splintered together
Came in scalding pulsations.
Lis’ list is the direct result of my going to readers and asking for the words and phrases they feel are overused, too euphemistic, or out and out bizarre. Here is some other terminology provided by our readers – some of them are lucky enough to have been awarded an author-autographed book for helping “write” this encyclopedia:
From Koala Bear: Is it just me or is anyone else driven crazy by Nora Roberts’ classic reference to an orgasm as: “Erupted like a geyser”‘? I just have visions of hot, grey mud going blop blop blop!’. She’s used it in quite a few of her books.
From Wendy: My all-time favorite silly sex term is ‘nubbin of flesh’. When I read this in a medival romance last year, I burst out laughing. Something tells me that’s not what the author intended.
From Sharon: Here’s one of my favorite silly terms describing a hero’s erection: “His sex was throbbing like a toothache.” This is a quote from one of my very favorite authors, Linda Howard, in one of my very favorite novels, Mackenzie’s Pleasure. I must admit that I had to put the book down, I was laughing so hard. I am glad that I picked it back up, though.
From Christine: If I never read the word “shaft” referring to the male anatomy again, I would be a happy woman. First it always makes me think of the Richard Roundtree movie, and second I have never heard it outside of a fiction setting. A man just would never say “Behold, my shaft.” Also the whole “sword and sheath” analogy causes me to roll my eyes heavenward.
From Kim: A few others that go along here and with a few further down are his staff, his member, and – get this one – his tree of life (I read that one somewhere in an older historical). Somebody mentioned turgid further down — it’s often coupled with member – his turgid member – his throbbing member, etc. As for women, well, I just read a contemporary from the ’80’s where the hero’s “fingers…found the moist heart of her desire” (right up there with dew and core of her desire). I just loved her response to this – “her hips bucking” in pleasure.
From bchad: “Nubbin of flesh’, ‘nubbin of pleasure’, ‘nubbin of love’ are so silly they’re irritating! Medievals can sometimes contain too many ‘sword and scabbard’ euphemisms to suit me.
From LLB: Why have I read “hard thighs” probably 500 times in 600 romances?
From Wendy: The funniest, most purple sex term I ever read was in a book by (I think) Judith Gould of all people – she referred to the hero’s penis as a “weapon of flesh.” She was apparently perfectly serious, but I was rolling on the floor with laughter. I didn’t bother to finish the book and I’ve never read another by her.
There are a million silly terms, truthfully I’d rather see the clinical terms or modern slang terms with the exception of the nasty c-words: How about all those terms for women, lets see, some of the worst Dewy lips, didn’t someone say they read a book calling a womans labia as forested lips? Dew is a bizarre term to my mind. Slickness might work. Describing a clitoris has a bunch euphamisms – nubbin of flesh, anything with button (ackk), place with nerves, etc. Less bizarre but just as obnoxious descriptions of her ‘womanliness’ or describing her ‘womb’ during sex. Isn’t the womb her uterus which may contract during an orgasm, but otherwise isn’t where we have sexual sensations? I’m waiting for someone to talk about the g-spot. And all those descriptions of ‘full feelings’, or better yet, that ‘unusual feeling of fullness, not unpleasant’. Or she felt stretched, but not unpleasantly. All virgins sleeping with men with extra large peni. Lets see, for breasts and nipples, describing nipples as diamond hard (ouch) puckered, or how women’s nipples pucker up at every sighting of their love.
For men – organ, hardness (which is ok with me), turgid anything -turgid!!??? That often pops into my mind, and is so much more pleasant than erect or hard (sarcastic). sword, manliness, manhood. I’ve said this many times, so much of it is silly to me, everyone has different sexual preferences and sexual attraction and tension is what makes a scene for me, not the actual mechanics. I’d prefer less detailed explanation and more discussion of the thrill or being with someone you really like and desire. Descriptions of the general feelings both emotional and sexual than the mechanics. The other thing- in many books, they kiss once, he sticks his tongue in for five seconds and then onto her organs – don’t most people even in porno movies spend more time in the beginning hugging and kissing. If the he’s doing something I would find annoying – say incessant plucking (ack) of her rose buds (nipples) – it ruins the scene for me. If however, its more general with short descriptions I can insert my own likes or dislikes.
From Patricia: I once read a book in which the heroine’s nipples puckered or tightened or something everytime she saw the hero. It got to the point that everytime this happened I’d yell out loud “there go her nipples again.” Honestly, does this ever happen in real life?
From LLB: I think Linda Lael Miller is one of the biggest offenders in this area. Not in her newer, tamer books, but in every other book I’ve ever read by her (which is why I lead off a previous column with a quote from one of her books), nipples are not only hard, but they are constantly being plucked and tweaked that my own chest hurts just reading these books. And, I think I once said in a review of her from when I was at The Romance Reader, that just having the hero close by and breathing on her neck that the heroine nearly had an orgasm.
From Bridget: I wish that was all it took!
From Phyllis: I agree with a lot of what is being said here. For males, manhood works for me because the penis is the part of a man’s anatomy that most epitomizes his maleness. But I also like realistic terms rather than most euphemisms. What is a great wonder to me and seemingly egotistical on the male’s part and naive on the female’s is the often used adjectives to describe an erection. Usually, huge or enormous come (‘g’) to mind. Nothing is ever average.
From Vivien: The one expression that always jars me out of an otherwise good love scene is the ‘dance as old as time’ thing. It is so hackneyed! Whoever invented it may have had a burst of inspiration, but all those who followed do not seem to understand that certain terms get on your nerves if you hear them too often. Call me picky, but I guess sexuality as we know as human beings it is not as old as time! Another pet peeve of mine: pouting nipples. If there ever was a silly metaphor, it’s this one. When I told my boyfriend about this expression, he was practically in stitches.
From Jennifer: Why don’t they ever call it an orgasm? “Climax”‘ is okay; “culmination” is a descriptive but a little awkward; “tummult” is just goofy. For contemporaries, I see no reason why an author shouldn’t write, “She came.” That’s what most contemporary people would say, if they talked about it. One of my least favorite descriptions is when an author writes, “She came apart” or “she shattered” (usually into rainbow-hued fragments of pleasure, or something).
From Bridget: Terms that bug:
button – you mean like “cute as a ___”? sheesh.
column of flesh
petals of flesh
humid anything – ick! I need a shower
any kind of fireworks or pyrotechnic display during climax.
Sorry, but when you get a good one off you’re not thinking ‘Oh, this is just like the 4th of July!’ You’re not thinking at all. You might wonder ‘oh-my-merciful-god-am-i-still-breathing” but rushing rivers and exploding suns and cosmic communion with every blessed thing in the universe? Gimme a break.
From Patricia: Especially when the climaxer (word?) in question is a virgin. I really can’t see one “climbing the cliffs of ecstasy” her first try up the mountain. Maybe thinking to herself “Hey, this could be good and next time I’ll ‘scale the peak of passion’or ‘soar over the summit of desire.’”
From author Alison Kent: Oh, I am so loving this discussion. I write for Temptation, but am now contracted to write for the new, even hotter Blaze line. And writing about contemporary sex in contemporary language is so incredibly, ahem, orgasmic.[/fusion_toggle][/fusion_accordion]
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Ferri Tales – There’s plenty of purple prose here! (And a return link to the PPP section as well)