By Adam Katz
Erika and I were talking about the difference between a fanny-pack and a bum-bag.
I didn’t know until a few days ago that, what in the United States, call a ‘fanny pack,’ in Britain is called a “bum bag,” apparently because in England (and elsewhere) “fanny” is a euphemism for “vagina.” I did know that “fanny” had a different meaning in Britain than it does here, but I didn’t connect that they must therefore have another word for “fanny pack.” Quick aside: how long have these shenanigans been going on? When John Cleland published Fanny Hill in 1748, was the title meant to be a pun on mons pubis?
Obviously if I ever go to England and encounter a ‘fanny pack’ I can’t call it a fanny pack. Obviously. But I can’t call it a ‘bum bag,’ either, because, to my untrained American ear, that sounds like a euphemism for ‘rectum.’
So I just have to hope that I never go to England, or if, God forbid, I do, I never run into a fanny pack, because I’d be fucked coming or going.
Postscriptum: The piece itself is idle chatter, but the decision whether to publish it is not. I have had to argue with people, ranging from my own family to complete strangers about the difference between high art (Shakespeare, Chaucer, Faulkner) and… “that’s not even art.” Usually the latter is things like hip-hop.There’s a longer article in here somewhere about racial coding of the term ‘art.’ But that may be for someone else to write.
Anyway, I got tired of people making this argument, so I started having counter-arguments ready:
-The prologue to the Canterbury tales has the word ‘shit.’ At least half of the Canterbury tales are slapstick comedies about people having extramarital affairs.
-Act 4 of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale contains the word ‘dildo.’
-Absalom, Absalom!, which is Faulkner’s most critically acclaimed work, is about an old man who would bang any woman but one (for some reason) and his daughter who is tricked into incest with her half-sibling.
The traditional dividing line between art and smut is whether the work serves a higher purpose, but what if amusement and relaxation are a higher purpose? When I make uncouth jokes in sympathetic company, I can feel my muscles unclench. I am curious if anyone reading this has a similar reaction. This is not even to mention the article in Scientific American a few years ago hinting at a correlation between having a large vocabulary and swearing a lot. I am fine highlighting such scientific research as long as we don’t lose sight of the fact that you don’t need to justify the use of expletives to assist you in verbally expressing your emotions.
Additionally, fun fact, I have yet to meet a professor who concentrates on the medieval period who has a clean sense of humor. These are people who often have the vocabularities of ten languages to draw on and yet they keep coming back to the tried and true tetragrammatons. Even the ones who wear sweater-vests and have elbow-patches on their tweed coats. Readers, I put the question to you: have you met a professor of medieval studies (history, literature… doesn’t really matter) who had a clean sense of humor?