Word Choice and Female Anatomy

This post is not about the Virginia law that would require unnecessary transvaginal ultrasounds that can be performed without the woman’s consent before she can get an abortion. However if you are interested in signing a petition against this law, which, among other things, meets the legal definition of rape, please look here.

I’m talking about boobs. Who doesn’t like talking about boobs? I’m editing a novel told in the first person, and the narrator uses the words “boobies.” The slang the female narrator uses is usually perfectly appropriate to both her voice and the story. But the word “boobies” stopped me short. And so in what may have been my funniest query in a month I wrote:

AU: OK to change “boobies” to “boobs”? I find the word “boobies” annoying, so it might just be me. 🙂

[Aside: I don’t always use emoticons in my author queries. But when I have a more informal relationship with the author (i.e., I know he/she has a sense of humor) I use them. I find a little humor can make the editing process less painful. It’s good to remind the author that I am a person with feelings and a sense of humor rather than just a dried-up, anal, frustrated author who gets off on correcting other people’s grammar.]

But my editorial quandary leads to a broader question for editors. When are you editing and when are you expressing personal preference? We all know stories where editors replace perfectly good prose with prose more to their liking with no apparent rhyme or reason. And, let’s admit it, we’ve all couched personal preference in terms of Chicago. But how can you tell if you’re making a legitimate change?

I usually check with my editorial staff. This consists of either asking my colleagues (who are all gracious enough not to look at me as if I were stark raving mad) or yelling across the house to my husband. One can also  leave a query for the author. Or google the word and figure out other contexts in which it is used (along with a lot of images that are highly unsafe for work).

After a brief impromptu staff meeting on the word “boobies,” my husband and I agreed that “boobs” was acceptable slang, but “boobies” was just ridiculous. Fortunately my author agreed.

How do you make these calls?

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12 responses to “Word Choice and Female Anatomy

  1. That reminds me of the rubber bracelets that say “I like Boobies” for breast cancer awareness.
    My fifteen-year old nephew wore his proudly, along with the high school checker at the grocery store, etc. I don’t know how much money it raised, but it couldn’t have been enough for every teen girl that had to face these two nimrods wearing their stupid grins at their perceived cleverness.
    So, yeah, boobs is great and fit those two boys better than boobies ever would. Then again I’m not really down with objectifying women under the guise of being cool enough for adolescent boys, nor as a catchy awareness slogan. I thought it kind of sucked.

    • “I like boobies.”

      God, that’s just painfully stupid. I don’t even like the word “boobs” actually. It sounds so unerotic and I hate the way it looks on the page. Is there a term for words that look like what they mean? Visual onomatopoeia, or something.

      • Visual onomatopoeia is in the eye of the beholder. I was hoping you would weigh in on this discussion. The only thing worse than describing slang for breasts is the slang for male anatomy.

      • You know it, sister. I limit myself to d— and c— in my erotica, because to me those words are fittingly dirty and tend not to induce giggles. Start calling a man’s penis his “member” and you’ve lost me.

  2. On manbits…
    I once let my one of my sisters read something somewhat literary where I used the words dick and balls to describe, umm, a dick and some balls.
    She found no fault with the rest of the story (which had lots of problems), but informed me that I would have to change dick and balls to manhood, or no woman would read on from that, umm, point.
    No, I don’t ask her to read anything of mine any more.
    On boobies…
    I think you’re wrong. The usage depends entirely on the tone of the story, and in this case I do think you’re letting your “personal preference” dictate to you.
    I like breasts. (Yes, I know, that’s not surprising, who doesn’t ?)
    I also like boobs and boobies, and it’s all related to the voice telling the story.
    Anyway, here’s where I recently wrote boobies. It’s a stupid little story, so I think boobies was the right choice in this case. But I’m open to suggestions. Or chastisement. If that’s even a word.

    http://harryipants.wordpress.com/2012/02/07/big-willie-and-the-sausage-of-fire/

    • This might be a gender/cultural thing. I don’t think a twenty-something, reasonably conventional American woman (the narrator) would call them boobies. It’s too self-consciously juvenile. Boobs are fine. (As we all know.) But I’ll read your story and see.

      I have to say I prefer dick and balls to manhood, as words go. If you’re at a point where you’re talking about dick and balls, you don’t need a euphemism.

  3. Seems to me that all ‘sexual’ words, if written in the southern voice, are diminutive. Boobies, peenie, dickie… The mind boggles. So if it was a southern story, boobies probably would have, er, passed. The one that sends me up the wall is referring to boobs as ‘the girls.’ Isn’t that just too cute? Drives me to make holes in paper.

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