Euphemistically Speaking

By Rita Killer,

“Making love is quite an art.” Cole Porter wrote those words, which Frank Sinatra sang to the radiantly blushing soon-to-be-former actress Grace Kelly in the 1956 movie musical “High Society.”

Making love. The words have such a sweet, tender, elegant sound that I sometimes find it hard to reconcile them with the fact of the act to which they refer. Because having sex, however pleasurable it may be, looks anything but elegant. In fact, if you really think about people doing it, it’s down right funny.

Tell the truth. Would you want to imagine anyone you know having sex? Would you want them to imagine you having it? Of course, not. Because everybody – every body – irrespective of how attractive they may or may not be, looks silly having sex.

No, I’m not a voyeur. In fact, I wonder why anybody in his or her right mind would want to be a voyeur. But the descriptions I’ve read and the examples I’ve seen on film have led me to an inescapable conclusion: People just look funny when they’re having sex.

And they sound even funnier.

A couple of years ago, on some sitcom (the name of which escapes me), a young couple was ribbing each other about the noises they made during sex.

“You sound like a deranged Evangelical,” she said, “ ‘Oh, God! Oh, Jesus! Oh, God! Oh, Jesus! Yes…Yes…Yes! Oh, God!!’ ”

“Well, you sound like somebody directing a bus,” he replied, “ ‘No. Not there. A little to the right. No, too far. Go back a little and to the left. Not that far. Up a little. That’s it. Wait. No. Go back down. There. Yes…Yes…Yes…No, wait. Back up a little.’ ”

I believe writers are, in no small measure, responsible for the myriad terms that society has adopted for use when referring to the sex act. Some of these terms are long overdue for burial, or at the very least for an extended moratorium on their use. I am thinking, specifically, of the “f” word, which lost its shock value 50 years ago. Now, whenever I hear (or read) it, I can only conclude that the user has either a very limited vocabulary or equally limited intelligence. Or both.

There are other terms that show an equal lack of imagination. Back in the day, against my better judgment, I let myself be talked into seeing a film called (rather pointedly) “Shaft.” Our hero, of the same name, spent a good deal of time talking about getting laid. If somebody asked him where he was going, he snarled, “To get laid.” If somebody asked him where he’d been, he re-snarled, “I got laid.” While there was ample reason to believe that this was the character’s not-so-quaint way of telling the inquiring party to mind his or her own business, the line was delivered in such a distasteful manner that it left me wondering why any woman would let this self-absorbed, neanderthal get within 10 feet of her – even if they were both fully clothed. Like the “f” word, the term “getting laid” merely indicates the user’s limited vocabulary.

And then there are those phrases that just make you wonder what the person was thinking (assuming there was thought involved) before hand. Some years ago, in the throes of lower back pain, I went to an orthopedist who, presumably as part of his attempt to diagnose the problem, asked me, “When was the last time you had your caboose rattled?”

I am ashamed to say that it took me a few minutes to figure out what the heck he meant. In retrospect, I was not offended, though several people (particularly women) to whom I later related the incident expressed significant outrage. I preferred to attribute the unusually phrased question to the fact that the orthopedist was an older man still laboring under some rather old school ideas about how one addresses one’s patients. Had he been speaking to a man, he might well have asked, “When was the last time you sunk a putt?” In either case, it would never have occurred to the good doctor to ask simply, “When was the last time you made love?” Just doesn’t have the same ring.

Perhaps it says something about me – something that I would rather not examine too closely – that I find the Yiddish phrase, “getting schtupped” hilarious. Even though it is considered a vulgarity by many connoisseurs of the language, to me it sounds not only like a fun thing to do, but also like you should be laughing out loud while you do it!

But the hands down prize for the most euphemisms (that I’ve come across) for the sex act goes to the British. Now I’m not talking about the Queen’s English. That these phrases are rarely, if ever, heard bandied about Buckingham Palace goes without saying. The very idea!

But get out into the British countryside and (if British comedies are any indication), you are apt to hear a handsome and interesting variety of terms.

In an episode of the 1990’s BritCom “Chef,” the ever-frustrated wife remembers driving down to the beach with her husband to watch the sunset. “I thought to myself, I’m married to this wonderful, wonderful man, who bought me this wonderful, wonderful car, and any minute now he’s going to spread me over these wonderful, wonderful seats and Roger me senseless!”

Roger?!? Now that was a new one on me.

In still other BritComs, couples are often referred to as being “at it like rabbits,” which makes some sense, or “at it hammer and tongs.” The literal meaning of that phrase is to do something (usually argue) with a lot of energy, and even violence. Yet more than one BritCom writer has used it in reference to sex.

Among the British, one can also get “shagged” or “stuffed,” both of which bring interesting pictures to mind. As a British subject, if you knew a couple who were sexually involved, you might say they were “havin’ it off.”

In the end (no pun intended), I don’t suppose it matters what you call it. Author Peg Bracken once referred to sex as something that is often more fun to have in the mind than in reality.

Will sex, itself, ever be as interesting and entertaining as the language we have come to associate with it?

Maybe. Once in while.

If we “get lucky.”