About a week ago, my seventy-something MIL (Mother-in-law) leaned across the table to point out the middle-aged man standing in the bank across from Starbucks. "Look at him. He’s a nice dressed man, but he can’t stop scratching his cock." It was hard not to laugh. I had expected her to say ‘doodle‘ or ‘penis‘ or even ‘dick.’ However, I recalled several family dinner table conversations with MIL, Shrinky, and his brothers. Those dinners have made it plain that my adorable MIL finds the word dick to be rather coarse. MIL has asked her sons to refrain from using the D-word in front of her. Weirdly, she never seems to notice when one of the boys says fuck–and let me tell you they say say fuck a lot. Yes, I find it amusing that my darling mother-in-law prefers cock to dick (Hey now! Before you start making jokes or decide to get the wrong idea, remember I’m talking words not boy bits), but I know language is a big thing for some people.
As a result of my MIL’s most recent utterance of cock, I got to thinking about George Carlin, dirty words, what’s offensive language, and what’s offensive to me. I once had a judge for a romance novel contest entry tell me she was so offended by my novel’s hero using the words crap and crappy, that she was unable to read my entry and marked me down with a low score because of obscene language. That experience, combined with MIL’s pointing out Mr Bankballscratcher, dragged me back to the the romance convention centre. The world of romance fiction is one filled with unwritten rules and conventions for all sorts of things and I’ve ranted about a few of them. There have been previous Oldbitey bites about the conventions of ‘nice.’ I’ve snarled about ageism, growled over things a heroine (read that as woman) can and can’t be, things she can and can’t say. This stuff isn’t new for me. I’ve gone on a barkfest about bad, naughty, obscene words before. Subjectivity is an amazing thing. A perfectly tame word like crap can, for some individuals, have the same offending property as (look away if you can’t deal with R and X-rated words) fuck or cunt. I’m the opposite of my MIL. I find cock a more coarse-sounding word than dick, but mostly I just find cock…hilarous and not at all sexy. Don’t know about you, but it makes me think of roosters and feather dusters and Chicken Run.
So I took my curious thoughts to a twitter discussion with katydidinoz and BookThingo. They both agreed that cock is not offensive when it is used in the context of a sex scene. Context is everything. I would have liked to have investigated the context of other words a little further, but we stopped at that point because, well, it’s twitter, discussions beyond 140 are a little difficult, and things move on to other topics in a flash. I have to admit that while we were discussing crap, cock, and suffixes ending with sucker, for a few moments anyway, I thought I might change the focus of my PhD research from Cougars, Evil Stepmothers, and Menopausal Hot Flashers: Roles Representations of Age and the Non-traditional Romance Heroine to Dirty Dicks and Contextual Cocks; Sexy-vs- Offensive Language in Romance Fiction. Then I decided I need to refocus my attention on the matter of the impending peanut butter shortage at home.