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Terms for the Penis Among American College Students

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In 1990, linguist Deborah Cameron was teaching a class on language and gender when a male student mentioned that he and his roommates had once had a contest to see how many terms they could name for the "male member." Then a female student mentioned that she and her friends had done the same thing. In the paper Cameron subsequently published ("Naming of Parts: Gender, culture, and terms for the penis among American college students"), she said her "interest was piqued by this exchange. I wondered why college students apparently consider the activity of listing penis terms interesting and enjoyable. I also wondered what an analysis of the terms themselves might tell us about American English and…American culture." And so, she and her students did a study. As one does.

They had two groups of students, one male, one female, come up with as many terms as they could. What they learned was that while there are many, many (oh so many) penis terms in American English, they can be categorized according to a very few basic metaphors. But, unsurprisingly, men and women have different takes on those metaphors.

Because it's National Thesaurus Day (it exists!), let's take a look at some of the terms.

It's a person

Dick, Peter, Johnson, Mr. Happy. Some of these names suggested an intimate friendliness, but for the male group, most of those in the personification category carried a sense of authority (his Excellency, your Majesty, the commissioner) or referenced powerful characters in myths, legends, and comics (Ghengis Khan, Cyclops, The Hulk, The Purple Avenger). The personal names from the female list were all of the intimate friendliness type but for one: Eisenhower.

It's an animal

For the males, basically a dangerous beast like King Kong, The Dragon, Cujo, snake, cobra or anaconda, but sometimes just fun like hairy hound of hedonism. The only animal terms on the women's list were animal length and visions of horses.

It's a tool

For the males there were references to shape (pipe, hose), but mostly to action (screwdriver, jackhammer, drill). The females only had tool.

It's a weapon

Love pistol, passion rifle, pink torpedo, stealth bomber, and other references to the instruments of war were only on the male list, but the female list did overlap with the male list in terms which were variations on a helmet-wearing soldier.

It's food

There was meat spear, which could fit in either the food or weapon category, but also Wiener, Vienna sausage, tube steak, and noodle. Only the female list had biscuit. The male group found this category "the most demeaning and disgusting."

"Romancing the bone"

Only the female list had terms in this category associated with romance novels: throbbing manhood, swelling passion, growing desire.

There were other miscellaneous terms that couldn't be so easily categorized, from sweaty cigar to tallywacker to special purpose. But the majority of terms recapitulated typical cultural associations of masculinity: dominance, violence, dangerousness, and occasionally ridiculousness. Cameron didn't interpret this as necessarily bad news. She sees that the male group is not "simply reproducing myths and stereotypes" but "also recognizing them as myths and stereotypes; and to a significant extent, they are laughing at them." What she does find disheartening, though, is that the metaphors available to young people when they play this naming game "are so limited" and "predictable." The women reject a lot of the offensive metaphors, but "their list offers no real alternatives."

Has this changed since 1990? Do we have better metaphors today? Is it a good idea to invite comments on this? Or will I be sorry I ever brought this up?

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Big Questions
Where Should You Place the Apostrophe in President's Day?
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Happy Presidents’ Day! Or is it President’s Day? Or Presidents Day? What you call the national holiday depends on where you are, who you’re honoring, and how you think we’re celebrating.

Saying "President’s Day" infers that the day belongs to a singular president, such as George Washington or Abraham Lincoln, whose birthdays are the basis for the holiday. On the other hand, referring to it as "Presidents’ Day" means that the day belongs to all of the presidents—that it’s their day collectively. Finally, calling the day "Presidents Day"—plural with no apostrophe—would indicate that we’re honoring all POTUSes past and present (yes, even Andrew Johnson), but that no one president actually owns the day.

You would think that in the nearly 140 years since "Washington’s Birthday" was declared a holiday in 1879, someone would have officially declared a way to spell the day. But in fact, even the White House itself hasn’t chosen a single variation for its style guide. They spelled it “President’s Day” here and “Presidents’ Day” here.


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Maybe that indecision comes from the fact that Presidents Day isn’t even a federal holiday. The federal holiday is technically still called “Washington’s Birthday,” and states can choose to call it whatever they want. Some states, like Iowa, don’t officially acknowledge the day at all. And the location of the punctuation mark is a moot point when individual states choose to call it something else entirely, like “George Washington’s Birthday and Daisy Gatson Bates Day” in Arkansas, or “Birthdays of George Washington/Thomas Jefferson” in Alabama. (Alabama loves to split birthday celebrations, by the way; the third Monday in January celebrates both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert E. Lee.)

You can look to official grammar sources to declare the right way, but even they don’t agree. The AP Stylebook prefers “Presidents Day,” while Chicago Style uses “Presidents’ Day.”

The bottom line: There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it. Go with what feels right. And even then, if you’re in one of those states that has chosen to spell it “President’s Day”—Washington, for example—and you use one of the grammar book stylings instead, you’re still technically wrong.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Here's the Right Way to Pronounce Kitchenware Brand Le Creuset

If you were never quite sure how to pronounce the name of beloved French kitchenware brand Le Creuset, don't fret: For the longest time, southern chef, author, and PBS personality Vivian Howard wasn't sure either.

In this video from Le Creuset, shared by Food & Wine, Howard prepares to sear some meat in her bright orange Le Creuset pot and explains, "For the longest time I had such a crush on them but I could never verbalize it because I didn’t know how to say it and I was so afraid of sounding like a big old redneck." Listen closely as she demonstrates the official, Le Creuset-endorsed pronunciation at 0:51.

Le Creuset is known for its colorful, cast-iron cookware, which is revered by pro chefs and home cooks everywhere. The company first introduced their durable pots to the world in 1925. Especially popular are their Dutch ovens, which are thick cast-iron pots that have been around since the 18th century and are used for slow-cooking dishes like roasts, stews, and casseroles.

[h/t Food & Wine]

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