Msnowe's Blog

Your Sex

Posted in Uncategorized by m.snowe on February 25, 2010

I don't think they have sex.

m.snowe is reading this. So fair, not so bad. But one thing that’s slightly jarring is the haphazard, or perhaps randomly selective use of obscure ways  of describing things. Chances are Diamant is littering a few strange words here or there in order to keep her readers aware that this book is set in a completely different, biblical era (i.e. Old Testament). Okay, fine. But one thing that is talked about a lot, and a word that is used quite a lot in the book is “sex.” Yes, there’s a lot of the actual sex act going on in this book. However, Diamant chooses to use the word “sex” not only as the act of having sex, but also as the noun referring interchangeably to either female or male genitalia. (Example: “The women sang all the welcoming songs to her while Rachel ate date honey and fine wheat-flour cake, made in the three-cornered shape of a woman’s sex.”)

It takes a lot of reading down the long entry for “sex” in the OED to find anything close to this uncommon usage:

5. slang or euphem. A person’s genitals. (the cited etymology for this only dates to about the 1500s)

One thing m.snowe really likes about using “sex” instead of the specific male and female names for  the body parts is that it serves as an equalizer, there is no distinction between male and female  when you use the word. Also, the clinical aspects of the technical names are discarded, and the idea of “sex” is relegated to the actual body parts of one’s sex, not the outer idea of sex as a way to describe the whole body/person. It becomes just a small part (some smaller than others, LOL), and therefore sex (in terms of being male or female) is defined less by some idea of gender and more mechanically.

But, it’s still jarring to hear an actual, physical thing be described using the same word as, essentially, what it does. You have sex with your sex. You do not have arm with your arm, or brain with your brain. I’m confused. Where are we?

Sure, there are lots of words out there that are both nouns and verbs or describe both an action and a thing, but usually they’re very distinct from each other, and you can tell within the context (Ex. A bear in the forest is different from how you bear a child; you don’t bear a bear, unless you’re a bear).  How would we distinguish what the hell was going on?

Here are some weird example sentences:

I opened my kiss and used my chew to have a bite.

I opened my lips and used my teeth to have a bite.

Her walk was tired. She put her seat on the chair.

Her legs were tired. She put her backside on the chair.

Okay, these are kind of crap examples. But you get what’s going on here, right? Anyone else come across this phenomena, where an author intentionally misuses, or uses an obscure definition of a word through the breadth of their work in order to invoke a false sense of  the arcane? And does it succeed, or just make you annoyed?