They’re called breasts, not bazongas

Dear Voltaire,

Is there a reason why the top of page 29 of Candide had the word “breast” front and center? You see, I’m doing a Writing 101 challenge, and I was supposed to flip to page 29 and write about the word that jumped out at me.

When I tried to cheat by looking away and glancing back quickly, you know what word I saw? Breast. Because you said it twice.

My breast began to take its right form; and such a breast — white, firm, and formed like that of Venus of Medicis.

That’s just lovely for your old woman character, but really, why? You and your translators must have conspired to give me a word that most people don’t feel comfortable saying unless it is a prefix for “cancer” or a suffix for “chicken.”

I’m not sure why it’s an awkward word. It shouldn’t be. Its informal alternative, “boobs,” feels a bit awkward too. “Chest” works sometimes, but it’s not exactly accurate. Let’s not even talk about knockers or hooters.

dictionary

I mean, seriously. This is Google talking here. Bazooms? Jubblies? What are we talking about again?

I don’t usually think much about the objectification of women,  but maybe I should. After all, as a woman, why can’t I talk about my breasts without feeling like I’m in the doctor’s office? Why can’t I talk about my boobs without feeling silly? Why can’t I talk about my [insert vulgar synonym of choice here] without feeling, well, like an object?

It could just be a personal hang-up, but I doubt it. Why do we have so many words for breasts? And why are about 2% of them neutral descriptions of female biology while the rest are absurd nicknames or crude sexual labels?

I’ve done a Google search for “breast synonym” — and I’m unpleasantly surprised by what I’ve found. The first alphabetically listed synonym on Wikisaurus is “assets.” Awesome. It’s great to hear that my D-cups are such great assets. I guess that’s preferable to calling them bazongas, fun bags, or lady lumps.

And any of those terms is less abhorrent than the very existence of Campus Talk’s 262 Names for Boobs, just a few Google Search Results down. Straight from the horse’s mouth:

If I sat here all day on a throne made of dirty magazines watching porn on a wall of plasma screens armed with a pen, paper and a case of beer, I MIGHT be able to come up with 100 names for boobs. So I enlisted the help of every person I could find to compile this list of 262 names for boobs. I like to think of it as the definitive boob thesaurus. And you’re welcome for it being in alphabetical order. If you want to actually SEE some hot boobage, check out our hot chicks galleries.

Sigh. Don’t worry, that lovely introduction to your “definitive boob thesaurus” doesn’t make me feel objectified at all! Just my boobs. Sorry, my
big boppers.
caboodles.
chimichongas.
dirigibles.
dumplings.
flesh bulbs.
gob stoppers.
hand warmers.
kazongas. 

REALLY?? I can’t even finish the alphabet, it’s that humiliating. According to Campus Talk’s list, my breasts are any and all kinds of fruit (melons preferred), airships, light sources, missiles…generally, anything round, touchable, and/or edible. I’ll add that most of the other terms I’ve mentioned here weren’t included on their list, so we can safely assume the count is over 300.

Well, Voltaire? Why are we so obsessed with breasts? We’ve coined hundreds of synonyms since you wrote Candide. Unfortunately, the vast majority we’ve managed to invent are unflattering at best and dehumanizing at worst.

And so I leave you with a question. How are we supposed to overcome objectification of women — or men, for that matter — when we have so many words designed to do just that?

Sincerely Yours,

Well-Endowed
(with a brain, thank you very much)

P.S.

Oh, and Voltaire. I can’t say you helped matters with Candide.

Even the tender Candide, that affectionate lover, upon seeing his fair Cunegund all sunburned, with bleary eyes, a withered neck, wrinkled face and arms, all covered with a red scurf, started back with horror.

Good to know he loved her for her wit and intelligence.


Writing 101, Day 14: Pick up the nearest book and flip to page 29. What jumps out at you? Start there, and try a twist: write in the form of a letter.

Candide cover photo taken from http://www.thedailysnapshot.org/2012_04_01_archive.html


Okay, forget about Voltaire. Everyone’s guilty to some degree. Everyone’s a victim to some degree. Men, women, everybody. What do you think?


 

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43 thoughts on “They’re called breasts, not bazongas

  1. I think that it started from a deep-rooted sense of shame about the human body (specifically the reproductive organs), which recently, people try to cover up by injecting humour into conversations where breasts and penises are involved. It sort of undermines the idea that this generation is very open about sex and sexuality and all things related.
    The way you treated this subject is a real treat- funny, sarcastic. I think the term for this kind of writing is rhetoric… but I’m not sure. Please correct me if I’m wrong. And I love this piece.

    • That seems like a reasonable hypothesis to me! Shame has a lot to do with it, for sure. And the humor is evident in the more — *eyeroll* — creative names.

      “It sort of undermines the idea that this generation is very open about sex.” Interesting! I’m not sure what I think of that. It’s true, a lot of the “humorous coverups” are just a way to skirt around talking about the real thing. But I wonder if there’s a more sinister element to it — many of the words we use are sexual in nature and more explicit than, say, “boobs” or “breasts.” And unfortunately, they’re not just sexual, they’re downright derogatory.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and the lovely compliment!

    • Finally, some male commentary! 🙂 What do you think, if you don’t mind sharing? It’s not just about boobs or women, it’s about how we treat the entire discussion of reproductive anatomy. And the effect these types of words have on how we view each other as human beings. @kyabola made a great observation — do you think it’s shame covered up by humor? Or something else?

      • If we are talking about humour per se, then perhaps it could be masking shame. But there’s two ways it could possibly go. Firstly, someone who uses self-deprecating humour to distract themselves from their insecurities. And then we have these asshole types who tries humour at the expense of someone else. Like for example, a bully who remarks about someone’s body part. I would personally think that the bully is threatened or intimidated by the person he/she is attacking.

        So, if the premise is true, I would perhaps appropriate blame to society. We were taught from a very young age that our reproductive organs are private, not to be exposed, special only to us, etc. I guess, we have unwittingly placed way too much attention and focus on our private parts. (Think about nudists. They don’t give much thought about their privates. Perhaps that’s why they’re so uninhibited. So free. And I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t blush to a single word in your list.) Now that we hold our privates in such high regard, any negative connotation or attention associated with it becomes too unthinkable. We were basically brought up to be insecure about our thingamabobs.

        I think I have rambled enough. A little disjointed. But I hope you get what I am saying.

        P/S: We shouldn’t give much thought about guys catcalling/objectifying women with those words. They simply have some growing up to do. I am pretty sure half those words were made up by sexually frustrated teenage boys.

      • YES. The dialogue continues!

        It’s interesting — and sad — to think about how we’ve been raised with the best intentions, but that sometimes it all backfires. I liked your point about nudists. Maybe we should become nudists and then we can all be uninhibited and free!

        Oh, and for the record…it’s always society’s fault.

  2. Now that I’ve stopped laughing, I’m wondering if you came across “the girls” as a synonym. That one just cracks me up. It really is ridiculous that we’ve created all these silly names for breasts. We do the same for our backsides and specific sexual organs, but aln elbow is just an elbow. A toe is a toe, and a shoulder is just a shoulder. I guess it shows what we’re really interested in, right? I mean, who would do a post on all the different names we have for noses? 🙂

  3. This is one of the most impressive articles I’ve seen.
    I believe that women are creations of art and beauty and to be admired. But as with any work of art people become critical, they develop opinions, they skew it, they turn it into something it was never meant to be.
    It brought to mind that even on family friendly TV shows they have at times made a big deal out of the issue of breasts and used silly names to describe them such as yabo’s(?) I’ve never had to spell that word so I have no idea if that’s correct and I refuse to goggle it knowing what will like pop up.
    There is no way for a man not to notice at an initial meeting of someone but they can control reactions of that meeting and future reactions. Would I notice a women with nice breasts? Yes. Would I stare and drool and be an idiot? No. Like anything of beauty you appreciate the sight and move on. If you linger on the sight too long you become obsessed and it is no longer really something of beauty, but of some twisted need you’ve made in your mind to fill some void you have there.
    Perhaps none of this has made sense that I have written. I just appreciate the sight of women and then move on. I don’t create names for things or dwell on them.

    An amazing article and I am so impressed with this that I cannot find the words for it.
    Much Admiration and Respect
    Ronovan

    • Thank you so much. You’ve given me a huge compliment, not just by calling my article impressive, but also by sharing your thoughts on the topic. It’s interesting to think about how it all begins with something good, but becomes skewed with time and the corruption of human nature.

  4. What a fun post with an important undertone. They certainly get attention for a body part; what a plethora of interpretations, connotations and embarrassment (mostly from being stared at) They can be heavy, uncomfortable and not just in physical weight. But we can always put off the oglers by calling them lumps of fat! I haven’t heard of many of the names you found, but giggled a plenty when I read them aloud.
    What a well written article. Thank you.

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  7. Ah, beautifully written but also very good thoughts! 😀 I love it how you turned the assignment into something meaningful – and such an important topic.
    I am part of a friends group called The Consulting Nerd Girls and we’re doing monthly hangouts on air about various topics, all with a feminist touch, therefore I did a lot of reading (and thinking) about objectification of women (our tumblr is mostly in English, the rest is in German, but we have a lot of rebloggs about that topic as well, check it out if you like: http://consultingnerdgirls.tumblr.com/). I don’t per se think that it’s bad to invent nicknames for breasts/genitals but the problem lies in the WHY they are invented. The combination in our society of equalling sex (and everything connected with it) with shame on the one hand and promoting the necessity of being “sexy” and “available” AND “virtous” for women on the other hand creates such a hurtful discordance that it is no wonder so many girls and women have problems. Hand in hand with the objectification of women goes rape culture that includes media weeping over the lost chances of two boys who go to jail for gang-raping (and filming it) a 16-year-old girl.
    Which is also why I strongly disagree with @krjefferson ‘s
    “P/S: We shouldn’t give much thought about guys catcalling/objectifying women with those words. They simply have some growing up to do. I am pretty sure half those words were made up by sexually frustrated teenage boys.”
    We need to give these guys ALL our thoughts. Because they are so much more than “stupid teens”, they are part of a hurtful and dangerous society and culture that creates an atmosphere of fear and danger for women.
    Oh man, I’m rambling. Sorry. But it’s a topic very close to my heart. Thanks again for the lovely post! 😀

    • I agree, the nicknames aren’t inherently harmful, but their origins almost always are. I find the terms that make breasts into sexual playthings the most embarrassing of all.

      I understand KR Jefferson’s point that sometimes the stupidity of youth should be beneath notice, but as you said, those immature boys are part of the problem. Eventually they grow into men, and if their mentality hasn’t changed by then, they propagate the dangerous rape culture you described.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts and I’m glad you enjoyed my post!

  8. What a wonderful, thought-provoking post! Candide is possibly my favorite novel — in no small part thanks to the character of the old lady, whose quote started you off on this post. I’m no expert on this question, but she might be one of the earliest literary representations of a survivor of sexual violence who gets to have a voice, and a truly powerful one at that (she’s also brutally funny, which never hurts).
    By the way, the original word Voltaire uses in French is “gorge,” which is an interesting choice — it literally means neck, but could be used as a metonymy/euphemism for breasts at the time.
    I might be giving Voltaire way too much credit here, but I’d like to think of it as a moment — a pretty radical one, for the middle of the18th century in France — where a woman claims the agency to speak publicly about her body and her sexuality. It’s true the author is a man, which makes this problematic. But that narrative of the old lady is still an extraordinary construction, and one that — I think — is targeting, among others, Men Who Hate Women. That old lady has met far too many of those.

    • Thank you so much! Thanks for visiting my blog, too — it’s pretty cool to get attention from Word Press staff over here 🙂

      Neck? Hmm. How odd. I’m not sure I can derive any interesting connotations from that, but maybe that’s just because my knowledge of French is horribly lacking. In any case, the fact that he used a euphemism at all goes nicely with my piece as a whole.

      Considering the time period of Candide, I suppose Voltaire did take some significant steps in the right direction. But the ending still kills me — the hero spends the entire novel chasing his lover, only to realize he doesn’t want to marry her after all because she has become ugly. I suppose it could be satirical (there’s so much satire in Candide sometimes I can’t keep track) but still…and that description. Red scurf. Eww.

      Though I suppose having nasty red flakes peeling off your skin is preferable to going through life with only one buttock 😉

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