Dictionary of Silly Sex
Encyclopedia of Silly Sex

Purple prose is one of my personal pet peeves in regards to romance reading. As defined, purple prose is overly descriptive and flowery writing. While not limited to love scenes, purple prose in romance writing is most often associated with lovemaking.

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I think it's important to talk about purple prose and love scenes for a couple of reasons, one of which is that it is the manner in which these scenes are written that cause so many "outsiders" to diss the entire genre. Beyond that, however, they are a pet peeve for many, many readers. Finally, it's kind of a kick to poke fun at the excesses of our beloved genre, isn't it? If we can't have a sense of humor about such things, it only adds to the stereotypes surrounding romance readers, writers, and the genre in general.

As such, we have conducted annual purple prose parody contests since 1996. We've also done column segments on "silly sex" a number of times, and concluded the time was ripe to create a Dictionary of Silly Sex. When I took a look at the snippets gathered, though, I realized it was more of an encyclopedia rather than a dictionary. Included in this encyclopedia are excerpts from those columns at AAR where silly sex was discussed as well as words and phrases used for various terms related to the human body and lovemaking. This page will remain open for your submissions and we will periodically focus on a body part or some "part" of the act of lovemaking itself in an effort to "grow" this page over time. (Feel free to also use our internal search engine [I've included one on the bottom of this page for your convenience] using the terms "silly sex" and/or "purple prose" for books our reviewers have found to handle this delicate issue of prose either well or badly.)

Before going further, I'd like to caution you: please don't try to work through this entire feature in one sitting - it's obviously quite purple and a little bit goes a long way. I've formatted it into several pages in the hopes that you will only tackle one page at a time.

I invite those of you who are unfamiliar with either the entries in our Purple Prose Parody contests or the reader/author comments as provided in corresponding issues of Laurie's News & Views/At the Back Fence to check them out. Here's a handy table for you to take those links now (these are all "jump" links that will open a new window in your browser):

2005 Purple Prose Parody Issue #184 of At the Back Fence
2004 Purple Prose Parody Issue #142 of At the Back Fence
2003 Purple Prose ParodyIssue #164 of At the Back Fence
2002 Purple Prose ParodyIssue #142 of At the Back Fence
2001 Purple Prose Parody
2000 Purple Prose ParodyIssue #99 of At the Back Fence
1999 Purple Prose ParodyIssue #77 of Laurie's News & Views
1998 Purple Prose ParodyIssue #55 of Laurie's News & Views
1997 Purple Prose ParodyIssue #32 of Laurie's News & Views

Once May Be Enough? (From LN&V, April 22, 1996):

While I agree that too much of a good thing is still too much, I'm all for the occasional gratuitous love scene. Meredith and I agree, however, on the over-used euphemisms and terms that have been mentioned before in this column - what I call "silly sex". We both find it annoying when a love scene reads as though "the author is consulting a romance phrase book." She adds, "When I first saw Teresa Medeiros refer to her heroine's erect nipples as 'aching buds' I thought, ohhhh, I want aching buds too. But now that I've seen aching buds in so many books, I just skim over it to get to the story. Jaded, aren't I?"

The Purple Tulip Opens the Dewy Petals. . . (From LN&V, May 4, 1996):

A few brave souls have ventured forth to reveal their thoughts on this touchy topic. Let's all loosen up a bit first with some (really) silly sex. My top two candidates for all-time silliest sex terms are "manroot" and "honey-pot".

From Dagna K. comes this snippet: "My vote for silly/overused words that will ruin a sex scene: 'throbbing,' 'pulsating,' and 'turgid' (which seems to belong in a dirty limerick that starts "There once was a floozy named Ingrid. . ."). Any two together are enough to make me throw the book across the room. But then, I find straightforward descriptions much more erotic than purple prose."

From author Karen Harbaugh: "I think Ken Follett referred to the male member as a 'purple tulip.' - Uh huh. I'm not letting something that looks like a purple tulip get near me!"

From Julia: "There are a lot of funny metaphors to designate the genitals and I have a lot of fun with them: there are a lot of throbbing shafts or manhood, plenty of turgid nipples (BTW they have replaced the very famous -rosy peaks- in older Harlequins ), but they don't spoil the love scene for me. The best for me has always been one that has been in circulation for a long time in Harlequin Presents books: the guy who has hard thighs. Now, that's a displacement that always makes me laugh."

Tina, "whose throbbing brain cells are pulsing with thought", says that references to throbbing or pulsing manhood makes her "think of a cartoon character". And, Leslie McClain, editor and publisher of The Romance Reader, says, "If I have to read about petals opening one more time, I think I'll barf right on someone's manroot!"

Vegatation (From LN&V, June 16, 1996):

I'd like to award the most hilarious silly sex entry to Maya, who doesn't recall the name of the book but does remember this: "Her nipples stabbed through the fabric like gold-embossed invitations."

Readers Ilana and Kerry submitted the following:

"We'd like to submit a few silly sex terms. . . Our favorite term for the male, ahem, 'member" is also 'manroot'. In fact, the first time we discovered this stupid word, we were so amused that we drew a face on a Daikon radish and name it 'manroot' - he also had a condom hat!. . . Anyway, our favorites for women's, ahem, 'parts' (include): dew-moistened petals (which unfurl at his deft touch); rock-hard ruby nipples (ouch!); and pouty nether lips (uh-huh)."

Samantha hopes our heroines would be having "too good of a time to think up 20 euphemisms for his penis." She also asks, "What do these people use as erotica, a thesaurus?" Jill votes for throbbing manhoods, pouting lower lips, and "the nubbin" as the silliest of sex terms. She makes the point, however, that "what else is there to use? The formal clinical terms. . . are just too cold."

I tend to agree with Jill about the clinical terms, but, what to do? We don't want to go back to the days of the Hayes office, when one foot had to remain on the floor at all times during a film's love scenes, do we? Do we just want the allusions of love-making, with "candles going out, oceans crashing against the shore and the like?"

There must be some middle ground between "throbbing shaft" and "penis" and "chestnut patch of pleasure" and "vagina", although some readers would prefer the cold, hard terminology. Certainly authors such as Susan Johnson are using the "real" words and finding an audience for them. Some readers appreciate the euphemisms. Guylaine believes some authors are parodying silly sex in their very own love scenes: "Amanda Quick can usually do very funny sex scenes. The 'shores of transcendent love' scene in Scandal where she makes fun of metaphor in lust is hilarious."

Guess Who? (From LN&V, October 1, 1996 and November 18, 1996):

"He could feel her tensing within, and then her quivering little flutters of satisfaction as she crowned the head of his manhood with her own sweet honeyed libations of pleasure. The warmth of it sent him out of control, and his own love juices burst forth in greater measure, searing her hidden garden with an intensity of ecstasy. . . ."

"I could not allow anyone else. . .to plow a furrow in your love fields, my darling"

"Your love juices have begun to flow, sweetheart."

Most readers guessed correctly - the author of that purple prose was Bertrice Small. A few of the incorrect answers included Susan Johnson, Suzanne Forster, and Thea Devine.

Reader Pat was so disgusted with the snippet that she expressed outrage that the book was published. She commented that, "there should be a law against authors of this caliber being allowed to publish the sort of trash she seems to delight in writing. How could anyone read this womans' work? You certainly have my sympathy because you had to read it in order to review it. This garbage belongs on the bottom of a bird cage."

The Martians are Coming! (From LN&V, October 1, 1996):

Would you believe nipples as sentient little tips (all I can imagine are tiny little Martians)
How about nipples as knobs (can you imagine opening a door with one of them? -- yikes, that would smart!)
Throbbing and pulsating breasts (doesn't that happen when you get a breast infection?)
Naked globes (I'm getting dizzy from all that spinning!)
Breasts as cone-shaped orbs (do you get a picture of ice-cream cones floating in space?)
Ever imagine a chestnut patch of pleasure?
Or a silken love cave?
What do you think about that ever popular mound of Venus?

Horn O'Plenty? (From LN&V, November 18, 1996):

"I can't remember the author but someone referred to a part of the female anatomy as pouting nipples. Quick. . . someone cheer them up!!!" -- Mystique

Reader Gretchen, after our discussion of "nubbin," discovered that, in addition to being a small lump, nubbin also describes an imperfect ear of corn or an undeveloped fruit, prompting this response from Tonyia: "Thanks, Gretch. Now when I read the word nubbin in a romance, I'll automatically think of undeveloped fruit. How can I ever thank you for that mental picture?" To which Gretchen replied, "Hey! It's not my fault. Why don't you think of an imperfect ear of Indian corn? (Maybe it's good for popping?)- To which all I can say, is, "ouch!"

Meredith, whom I agree with in our mutual disdain for mound of Venus and its variants, wanted to add a couple more silly sex phrases to the discussion, including woman's cave and mound of love. The funniest euphemism she's read "was in Carole Nelson Douglas' Lady Rogue. It described the heroine's pubic hair as a Van Dyke, as in those pointy beards."

While we're on the subject of mounds, Eleanor wanted to remind me that it is based on a "real" term - mons veneris. I knew that, but knowing it makes it all the more silly to me. I mean, do you imagine a man in the throes of passion saying "I love to touch your mons pubis"?

Samantha's friends asked her to add Love Grotto to the list. She added, "By the way, with all that throbbing, pulsating, hardening, and thrusting going on, it makes me wonder if Robin William wasn't right when he said that God's biggest joke on men was giving them a brain and a penis and not enough blood to operate both at the same time.'"

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