Friday, 21 August 2009
My Manly Prize
W00t! The other day I sort-of-accidentally won a competition over on Jeremy Edward's blog, and my manly prize (p92) arrived in the post yesterday. (Why trans-Atlantic airmail is nearly as fast and nearly as cheap as UK inland parcel post is an abiding mystery to me.) I've won A Dictionary of Semenyms by Cecil Goran (NSFW!), an exhaustive, eye-opening and occasionally stomach-turning compilation of over 1300 synonyms for semen derived from erotic literature, lovingly and beautifully produced. (And yes, suddenly everything I say looks like a double entendre.)
I was glued. Yes, glue is a semenym. As are bollock-yogurt and magical unicorn mayonnaise (which made me laugh) and scrip and tallow (which made me think "Ooh, clever, must make a note for future use").
Most of all I was struck by a very basic point about the human mind: the incredible weight of meaning it stacks onto everyday objects. Semen is, materially speaking, a couple of teaspoons of whitish fluid produced with a brief sensation of physical pleasure. Yet we load it with symbolic force - spiritual ("his Holy Offering"), emotional ("great lumps of fear, hurt and pain", "his precious love-offering") and social ("fratload"). It's made to stand for nourishment and vitality, masculinity and male bonding, the shining life-force and desolate mortality. It can represent contempt and rejection or desire and acceptance. It's the pure essence of a man or the distillation of his lowest nature. It's beautiful and revolting.
And this is before we even get into the symbolic burdens carried by the penis, the vagina and by the act of copulation itself!
We are (so far as we can tell) the only animals that do this. We're the only ones who give meaning to the mundane. We're the only ones who tell stories about ourselves. We're the only ones whose lives and actions are shaped (and twisted) by mere ideas. It makes us unique and wonderful - and it makes us terrible beyond even our own ability to describe.