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Sex Language

While American English's modern words for sex are harsh and vulgar, the Chinese equivalents are melodic and beautiful

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There's a joke about a group of diplomats sitting around after dinner, having a friendly debate over which of their native languages is the most poetic. The Italian claims the word for butterfly, farfalla, is the most lyrical in the world. Not to be outdone, the French and Spanish speakers claim their words for butterfly, papillon and mariposa, respectively, are just as lovely. After a moment's silence, a German from the end of the table pipes up, "So what's wrong vit schmetterling?"

While it's easy to chuckle over such harmless banter, the differences in language dealing with sex are not so humorous. Words referring to sex in English and traditional Chinese, for example, are about as different as a shoot-em-up action movie and an artful kung fu film on the order of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Maybe there's a connection. It's possible a culture that values quick, bloody and graphic violence as entertainment doesn't have much of a capacity to view sex much differently. (Snuff movies, anyone?)

What is certain is that the mindset surrounding sexual relations varies among cultures; hence, it's no surprise that the language describing sex, genitalia and gender would also carry different nuances and connotations.

Perhaps at the top of the list of ugly words describing a woman's genitalia are cunt and snatch. While the origin of the word cunt is disputed, by the early 13th century, a street in England (it may have been in Oxford or London) was known as Gropecuntelane. Sources agree the place was notorious as a den of prostitution and debauchery.

By the early 20th century, according to one etymological dictionary, snatch, which had meant a hasty sexual encounter, evolved (if you can call it that) to a slang word for vulva. Now, snatch as a "quickie" is understandable and not terribly offensive, but as a word for a part of female genitalia, even a slang word, it lacks a certain charm. And it does betray a less-than-positive attitude toward females.

Compare this to terminology such as jade gate, jade door or cinnabar cave, all words meaning vagina and rooted in Chinese Taoism. For the early Taoists, sexual relations were a highly valued and critical part of their philosophy. This may help explain why the language surrounding sex was not only poetic, but transcendent.

The historically esteemed place of jade in Chinese culture is difficult to overstate. For centuries, jade was believed to possess an array of positive attributes. When the Taoists incorporated the word into their sexual lexicon, they were conferring significance to erotic pursuits that went far beyond physical pleasure or reproduction.

Jade stem, a word for penis, is in an entirely different league from prick, dick, cock, dong or pecker, just to name a few of English's sterling collection of slang for the male organ. And baby maker, another slang term for penis, is a prime example of pitiful arrogance, not to mention male ego, butting heads with biology.

When it comes to the act of sexual intercourse, English has a plethora of words describing coitus in less-than-attractive language. Bang, bone, get laid, hump, screw and shaft are examples of a language woefully short of words connoting any quality other than a harsh physicality, much less even a shred of tenderness. There is nothing in English approaching the beauty of what the Taoists call clouds and rain. To put it mildly, getting it on is a tad crude in comparison.

Blow job, cock sucking, giving head, muff-diving and eating her out, as slang alternatives to fellatio and cunnilingus, are just plain hideous. (These terms refer to straight sex. The Taoists also came up with language for gay and lesbian sex, such as splitting the peach and rubbing mirrors.)

Though blowing the flute, the Chinese term for fellatio, also incorporates the verb blow, flute brings to mind the image of a lyrical musical instrument. It's not much of a stretch to conclude that when a woman is blowing the flute, she is, with her partner, engaged in making music flow as contrasted to performing some job. And though the act described, cunnilingus, is the same, carpet munching isn't as likely to sweep a woman off her feet in quite the same way as sipping the vast spring.

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