The Contemporary Dictionary of Sexual Euphemisms front cover

Front cover for The Contemporary Dictionary of Sexual Euphemisms

By Jordan Tate
Published in 2007 by St Martin’s Press

I came across this book at a sidewalk sale of one of my favorite local booksellers.  Having read it, it is easy to see why it didn’t sell well at full price.  The Contemporary Dictionary of Sexual Euphemisms begins on a bad note with E. J. Collins’ introduction.  Collins claims that the euphemism began “from society’s inability to accept sexuality as a normal part of existence.”  He further claims that the euphemism exists in modern times as a “shield and weapon” against the fragility of masculinity and bemoans that masculinity cannot define itself “independent of feminity.”

Collins misses the mark badly. He fails to acknowledge that the euphemism is a linguistic conceit.   Though they can be used to obscure, they can also be used to illuminate a subject.  Also, the euphemism is often employed to add humor to a subject.  Unless you’re doing it wrong, sex should be fun (among other things).   If all discussions about sexuality were somber and clinical, would it not be reasonable to assume that sexuality is likewise somber and clinical?

Unfortunately, the book never recovers from Collins’ introduction.  Every entry in The Contemporary Dictionary of Sexual Euphemisms is presented in a disjointed, but consistent, fashion.  Entries are presented in alphabetical order and typically have with three definitions – two absrurdist literalisms followed by an explanation of the euphemism’s real meaning.  For example, the entry for “makin’ bacon” consists of:

  1. To prepare the salted and smoked meat from the back and sides of a pig.
  2. To cook or prepare salted and smoked meat from the back and sides of a pig by heating.
  3. Coitus (slang)

This dictionary style information is then followed by etymological information, a usage example, and a brief commentary about a euphemism’s origin.   Some of the entries are photo-illustrated.  But don’t get too excited, these illustrations are pictorial depictions of the literal absurdities being described.  For example, the illustration for “hiding the salami” shows a girl on her knees sneakily putting a salami under a carpet.

Taken as a whole, the entries  leave the reader puzzled as to the book’s intent.  Is it intended to be a work of humor?  A serious exploration of the change of language? A joke perpetrated on the reader?  If Tate knows the answer, he never bothers to inform the reader.  Had Tate had chosen any one of these ideas and fleshed them out, the book would not only have been more cohesive, it would have been entertaining.  Instead we are left with a meandering mess that neither informs nor entertains. These major problems aside, Tate does deserve credit for including euphemism that are both humorous and vulgar.