Friday, February 12, 2010

Today We Have Naming of Parts

The title of this post, of course, comes from Henry Reed's World War II poem, "Naming of Parts." (Which, until I looked it up, I somehow thought was written by Philip Larkin.) That occurred to me while I was reading Peter Silverton's Filthy English: The How, Why, When and What of Everyday Swearing (London: Portobello Books, 2009). The book generally tends to ramble, but it contains a lot of interesting lore, and every so often I encounter a nice little stand-alone passage like this one, from page 5:
I studied psychology. Often, when you tell people you’ve studied psychology, they say something like: Oh, you can look right into my mind, can’t you? Usually, I say: Yes, I can.
Or this one, pages 87-8:
A good number of penis words involve the naming of the part. The old man, the old feller. Some are purely personal ones. A man called George, for example, might refer to his penis as little George: I am my penis, my penis is me. Or at least a mini-me. Or from another, perhaps, female point of view: his brain’s between his legs. In the intimacy of the sexual encounter, this naming of the penis is, I guess, another part of the arousal dialogue. (Which might explain why American researchers have found men not named Elvis but who do have a Little Elvis.) Beyond the bed, though, it can be something different. It’s hard not to think that by giving a personality to a penis, you are also giving it autonomy, an independent life beyond the rest of the body’s control. Desire is outsourced and can therefore be partly disavowed. It wasn’t me, guv. In the 1980s, there was a series of comic books about a man and his Wicked Willie. It was a dialogue – mostly about women, of course – between the two. Its irony is that the ‘dreadful little trouser mole’ is by far the sharper of the two brains.