Dirty Words and Cursed Cliches

July 24, 2007 at 6:07 am (Uncategorized)

I was reading Mia Freedman’s column in the ‘S’ section of The Sun Herald last Sunday when I burst into a completely uncontrollable fit of hysterics. I haven’t laughed that hard and that loud in quite some time. It took me and everybody in the pizza place Llew and I were sitting in completely by surprise. People stopped in the street and glanced down at me sitting there with tears streaming down my laughter-creased face. Every time I remembered why I was laughing so hard, I set off again, peals and peals of unstoppable laughter ringing out towards sea. I’ve been told I have a “distinctive” laugh – a polite way of saying I cackle like a hyena on heat – so my attack of the killer giggles probably ruined at least one person’s hard-won Sunday peace, but still the words got the better of me.

I don’t usually find Freedman’s column so hilarious. And it was really only the first section this time that was – the other two thirds were back to her usual almost-but-not-quite level of holding my interest. But that first third was funny as all hell. It all started with a riff on the word ‘panties’ – women don’t like it because it sounds smutty. That’s true. It does sound dirty. I never call my underpants panties unless I’m endeavouring to make some kind of pornographic point. Freedman then recounted the experience of a friend whose doctor kept saying ‘panties’ during a physical examination of the panty region, and I was chuckling in fond agreement when the icky word moved seamlessly (no pun intended) from ‘panties’ to ‘moist.’ I no doubt laughed harder just at that moment, because I know the colleague of two great mates also loathes the word ‘moist,’ and I’ve laughed long and loud at their stories of torment in the past. “Moist,” they whisper in her ear. “Moist,” they announce at staff drinks. “Moist,” read the Christmas cards. And I find that damn funny. On Sunday, then, reading Freedman’s column, I found myself wondering if her friend and the colleague of my friends were one in the same. If not, I wondered, just how many people are there who can’t bear the word ‘moist’? How about ‘damp’? Is ‘damp’ okay? And really, isn’t the word ‘wet’ also totally salacious in this context? Where does the smut line end?

I was feeling pretty happy at this point, Freedman’s column giving me much more sustained enjoyment than ever before. I was really lapping it up, not to put too fine a point on it, and had no sense at all that my funny bone was about to snap right in half. I read on, and she innocently confided a few lines later that the same friend who hates ‘moist’ takes serious umbrage with ‘finger bun.’

Well, that was me gone. Finger bun. This popular, innocent, primary school baked good – a real staple of the Australian playground – had been smuttified for all time. Panties. Moist. Finger bun. Where were we and how did we get here? Finger bun. Finger bun. And because of the new and unexpected connection with words like ‘panties’ and ‘moist,’ suddenly ‘finger bun’ became lurid and X-rated right before my eyes. ‘Finger bun’ was now mysteriously and irrevocably related to what happened to Year 5 girls when they ventured into the dank sports shed with Year 6 boys. Suddenly a ‘finger bun’ had everything to do with sex and nothing at all to do with sweet icing and sultanas. The power of association is such that ‘finger bun’ will never sound or look the same to me ever again. It’s now on par with ‘panties,’ and I have Mia Freedman to thank for that.

I also have Paul Sheehan to thank for making me think about all my crimes of cliche. How awful to find I am so guilty of so many. It’s alarming not just because I’m an English PhD, but because I’m supposed to be a writer by trade. As I said to Sarah, his opinion piece is (ho ho ho) a real wake-up call.



  1. Tim said,

    God, Di, I have to tell you this:

    One day in year 8, I invited my friend over to my place after school to hang out. We duly caught the bus back home; when I got in the door, though (ahead of my friend, who couldn’t see past me at this point), I was confronted with my afternoon tea: a gigantic finger bun lying obscenely on a diner plate in the middle of the table. I don’t know why, but at that moment I had the following thought:

    “That finger bun looks just like a giant iced pink dildo.”

    What made it worse was that it was a PERSONAL finger bun, not one to share. Somehow, the fact that I was going to eat this dildo bun by myself made the whole thing far worse than it would have been if if it was suppposed to be shared with the whole family.

    I suddenly realized three things:

    1. Huw was just about to see the obscene finger bun.

    2. I would soon be expected to eat the obscene finger bun.

    3. My mother, who was in the kitchen, was about to say “Hi love, I bought you a nice finger bun for afternoon tea.” (I know this sounds like something out of a Benny Hill episode, but that’s the kind of stuff my mother says sometimes).

    Both of these were utterly mortifying possibilities, because I knew that Huw would make a horrible joke about my relationship with, & illegitimate uses for, finger buns to the whole school. (I don’t know HOW I knew this, but I just did – I was a paranoiac then too). I solved the problem by pretending to be really angry with Mum: when she started talking. She said “I got you a -“, and I snapped “Mum, I just don’t want to hear it, ok?” It it a hard thing to snap at your mother when she is offering you food, but I managed it.

    Part II of the operation: I actually BACKED AWAY from the kitchen, down the corridor, blocking Huw’s line of vision. I somehow managed to back him out the front door without him seeing anything. But it would have looked totally bizarre. I ate the bun in the end, but did it alone and guiltily. I’ve never been able to say the word out loud since.


    P.S. ‘Moist’ icks me out too. ‘Damp’ is fine.

  2. doctordi said,

    It’s actually the image of you finally succumbing to the lure of the sticky finger bun – guilty and alone (and in my version sitting flush faced in a locked bathroom) – that’s going to stay with me, Tim. Finger buns, huh? Who knew?

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