A vagina by any other name…
Over lunch today, our conversation turned to an article a couple of us had recently read in Tablet about Yiddish words for vagina. (Yes, this is fairly typical lunchtime conversation at the Jewish Women's Archive.) None of us had really thought much about this topic before, but we were all quite intrigued. Why yes, it IS strange, we agreed with the author, Elissa Strauss, that Yiddish slang for penis has been assimilated into general English usage, while Yiddish slang for vagina is virtually unknown.
Why is this? There certainly is a need for more good terms for vagina. I have to admit that I haven't yet found one in English that really works for me. Mostly, they're derogatory (think the c-word). If they're not derogatory, they're too cutesy and diminutive (think itsy-bitsy). Or they're just plain cheesy (think honey pot). But the Yiddish terms -- like knish or schmundie -- have a nice ring to them. Not sexy, to be sure, but friendly, comfortable, intimate. Like an old friend, not something shameful or little-girly or directly out of a 1970s lesbian collective.
The truth is that I'm a big believer in teaching people the real names for things, which requires using those names regularly. I would argue that most slang for genitals conveys that there is something shameful or dirty about them. And I think we need to be able to say what we're talking about, not use euphemisms. I am, after all, the person who suggested to my husband that we teach our two-year-old daughter the difference between her vulva and her vagina. (I lost that battle.)
But I will admit that vagina sounds a little clinical. It's hard to feel "warm and fuzzy" (no pun intended) about such a cold term. And as someone who's generally sex-positive, I believe we need to make our vaginas our friends. And friends sometimes have nicknames. Schmundie won the lunchtime poll. I'm going to try it out.
In the meantime, I hope my phone doesn't ring too often today, because it's all I can do not to answer the phone "Schmundie central."