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March 14, 2011

What Are We Gonna Call the Naughty Bits?

We've come to a lexical crossroads with our 20-month-old twin girls. 

Or maybe it's a fork in the road.

Perhaps a traffic circle?  

Anyway, we're on a metaphorical road or path of some sort and we're at the point on that road where we have to figure out what euphemism we want to use when we talk about the girls' lady business. Businesses.  See?  Like I said--it's a problem.

We need to get on this posthaste too, because the days when they want to discuss their...you know...junk, are virtually upon us. 

Currently, they're fascinated by bodily functions, and although they don't always correctly distinguish "poo-poo" from "pee-pee," they are quite adept at pronouncing the words.  And somehow, those words don't bother my wife or me.  They're neither too cutesy nor too vulgar.  They seem to be pretty much the preferred juvenile terminology for "feces" and "urine" nowadays, and I don't think any of their future preschool classmates and teachers will think they have negligent parents because they use the non-clinical terms.

But in addition to the stuff they see in their dirty diapers, they are also fascinated with the body parts the diapers conceal.  At bathtime, they've started poking each other in the butt, saying "poo-poo," and falling into fits of laughter.  I know.  Comedy gold, right?

The fascination doesn't stop with the butt, either.  They both dedicate a little bit of bathtime every day to exploring their crotchal areas.  And again, their commentary in this context is restricted to the phrases "pee-pee" and "poo-poo," which they use interchangeably to refer to anything that happens or exists in the diapered region.  I may once again be projecting my own anxieties onto the kids, but I swear that when they verbally flail around with "poo-poo pee-pee," they look at us quizzically, almost plaintively, wondering why we don't tell them the right words.


After all, we're eager to correct them when they confuse "elbow" and "shoulder," and we even try to give them the vocabulary to talk about sub-areas of body parts they already know the names of, like "forehead" and "cheek." 

But when they try to start a conversation about their private parts, they're met with nodding heads and awkward silences.

It's not like we're puritanical or prudish, either.  We talk about naughty bits all the time.  My wife's a doctor, for Pete's sake.  Conversation topics at dinner often include schlongs, cootchies, and bungers, and anomalies thereof.  But somehow, as dignified as they are in the context of adult discourse, those terms are not generally considered appropriate for small children.

One route we could take, of course, would be to teach them the clinical names.  That would be the adult, no-nonsense way to deal with the problem.  They're just words, right?  Nothing to snicker about.  There's nothing weird about a child saying "vagina," or "buttocks," or "anus."  Am I right?

Who am I kidding?  That sounds terrible.  It probably speaks to some lingering shame I have from my own childhood that I can't even imagine teaching my kids those words without my skin crawling a little.  Also, I have it on good authority from adults who were taught the clinical terms as kids that saying "penis" and "vagina" among ones peers is a fast track to playground ostracism.

Another option is to use established, non-offensive slang words.  But how do we pick the right one, when each term is fraught with so much connotative baggage?  "Booty" sounds fine, even kind of fun and cute, but it definitely has sexual overtones, as in "booty call," or the lyrics to every rap song ever written.  I'm okay with "butt," but some folks still find that word crass, and there's something about the sonic bluntness of it that makes it seem harsh coming from the mouths of babes.  Then there's "bum," which is another decent option, but because it's associated with Brits and their former colonies, sounds a little pretentious.  We don't want people thinking our kids (or their parents) are elitists.  Or Canadians.

As you can imagine based on my agonizing over what to call a butt, the prospect of choosing a name for the...uh...front parts is even more problematic. 

I don't remember what my parents called the girly bits when we were kids, probably because I didn't have any.  But also because, as open-minded as my parents were/are about almost everything else, they were a little prim when it came to bodily functions and equipment.  We weren't even supposed to say "fart."  I think we weren't even supposed to acknowledge that farts happened.  Come to think of it, I don't actually remember what I was supposed to call my own gear.  I'm pretty sure it wasn't "unit" or "johnson," but beyond that, I just don't recall.  That's how little we talked about stuff like that.

Naturally, my wife should be of some help in this area, having been a little girl early in her career.  Of course, she grew up speaking Vietnamese, wherein the euphemism they use for little girl business is "bird."  Kind of nice, right?  And the Vietnamese word is the onomatopoetic "chim" (pronounced "cheem," roughly), which is uncharacteristically easy to pronounce.  That's what I'm leaning toward at the moment, even though it could cause some confusion among the girls' peers, teachers, doctors, whatever.  I guess.  But really, how much do kids need to talk about their private parts?

And when it comes down to it, that's obviously why it can be difficult to negotiate the language we use to talk about this area.  As parents, most of us are okay with our kids being a little repressed.  We don't want their comfortable relationship with their bodies to translate into behavior that's, well, shameless.  

So how about you?  Got any good euphemisms for naughty bits?  What embarrassing slang did your parents use?  Do you think we should just be grownup and use clinical terms?  




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