Lip Service

Remember the tireless enthusiasm with which you nagged your parents about Christmas presents? If you had retained that boundless greed, you'd probably have made something of yourself by now. No one writes a resume with the same verve as they wrote their letter to Santa, even though they both amount to pleading your case to get a reward.

But when you actually got to see Santa -- the one person who could give you everything you'd ever dreamed of -- you became shy. You forgot your list. Maybe you cried. Maybe you even wet the lap of the mythic figure whose good opinion meant more to you than God's, because it was not God who was coming to eat your Oreos and leave you a princess phone. But you botched it. Now you'd have to wait a whole year, which, in kid time, is a life sentence. There's a scene like this in "A Christmas Story," and in a great many childhoods.

This happens to us as adults, too. With our little friends we never shut up, but when something is important, we sit there like we'd been taxidermied. It's hard to discuss the things that most interest us.

It happens most often in love, whether platonic, romantic or, as Chris Eliot said, "of the zipper variety." When it comes to romance, Hallmark, soap operas and horrid, horrid Whitney Houston have ruined it for all of us. Because of the saccharin sentiment of so much pop culture ("Why did I buy this insurance? Because he has his mother's eyes ... " ), you can't say anything mushy without feeling like if you open your mouth, only donkey noises will come out.

Struck dumb

Something as simple as longing can be hard to express. Your dream squeeze walks by and instead of acting remotely normal, you examine your sneakers as if a new Kubrick film is running on them. It's like the person is Santa, and you're 5 again.

Even longtime companions can get Santa syndrome when it comes to sexual desire. Fercrissakes, some people can't even tell their hairdresser what they want, and bangs aren't a particularly intimate subject. The last thing you want to risk when you're naked is sounding stupid. But you also don't want to sound like you learned everything from porn flicks, though, in fact, you did.

Enter "The Bald-Headed Hermit and the Artichoke: An Erotic Thesaurus," compiled by Toronto psychiatrist and journalist A.D. Peterkin, an interesting resource for tongue-tied lovers.


Kind of.

OK, so it's geared to those of us whose sense of humor hasn't graduated from fifth grade, when it was fun to entertain your friends by looking up scrotum (cod, happy sack, winky bag) in the dictionary. This level of maturity may be what keeps a lot of us single.

Word for word

"The Bald-Headed Hermit" has 15,000 terms for everything from love (treasure, pash) to gay public sex venues (church, fairy glen, French Embassy). "Cock-eyed Jenny," "floozy" or "painted cat" are a few terms that would brighten up any hooker's business cards. If you want to secretly name-call, there are 1,400 synonyms for penis (more than any other word in any other language): Try "Captain Picard," "Sleeping Beauty" or "Little Elvis." Condoms are more pleasant when called "pope cheaters." Virgins are more interesting when you know they were once considered to be "saving it for the worms." Copulation can be as dreamy as "knee-trembler," as biblical as "Adamize" and as cryptic as "Ugandan discussions." Gay men are referred to as "ginger beer," "deedee" (in Hindi) and -- lucky me -- "Lizzie boys."

The book also is peppered with erotic photos from the olden days, historic sexual references and things like 17th-century poetry about sex toys, reminding us that people have always had sex and not been real chatty about it. There's even a game that asks you to match the term with the fetish (being turned on by pregnant women is called maiesiophilia -- and that's one of the less jarring ones). And if your next volume of erotic poetry should include some reference to flatulence, go right ahead and refer to it as "talking German."

It might not help you to become the next Anaïs Nin, but "The Bald-Headed Hermit" offers a look at sexual attitudes throughout history, along with subcultural terms you may never hear otherwise. Mostly it's a good time that can be had by all. No matter how shy you are, you can still enjoy some nastiness between the covers.

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