"What's that?" asked my three-year old son, head skew-whiff. Swamped by bubbles and an army of dinosaurs from the Cretaceous period, he was pointing at my lower regions with a Gallimimus in his hand. We were both in the bath.
"Erm," I replied.
For a few seconds I displayed newfound interest in the T-Rex my son was holding. Come off it, how could they have been carnivores, and thus monstrous combat machines with such pathetic front arms?
Before I was to voice this paleontological conundrum, however, I realised the answer to my son's question must have sounded insufficient. Mainly because he was staring at me. Discreetly, I covered "it" up with a few bubbles and a cough, pretending to take a sideswipe at a herbivore.
When I was little, we called "it" a "booboo". It was a homemade name, crafted, baked and kept comestible by a family of matriarchs. No one is able to say how the name came about, it just was. Perhaps it was chosen for its childlike hum, its dainty tone, making it perfectly palatable. Harmless. Even if no one else outside the family circle knew what the hell a booboo was, it didn't matter, because the subject was never brought up. The subject barely existed in fact. It came from a barren land, a discarded dead-end periphery, mute and nameless.
Little did I know the whole world and her daughter were doing the same thing - concocting pet words >out of fairy dust and desperation, fearing their souls would be siphoned by a hooded death-eater were the real word to be uttered. Thus, in the privacy of one's abode sprung up all kinds of stuff. My friend Sara called it her "Jane", my cousin her "Toot". There were "Priscillas", "Pom Poms", "Minkeys", "Quims", "Flossies", "Poonanees" and even "Mapa-bloody-tazis".
Whereas on the other side of the playground, the boys came equipped with a generalised name. They had themselves a willy. They would obviously bang on about theirs all the time, how far theirs could pee, whose looked the weirdest, what theirs had done yesterday. And the girls, due to lack of a common word and through fear of the giggling were they to talk of their "Minnie", their "Moon", or their "Possom", would just bury their heads in the sandpit.
The boys didn't just have one more word than the girls, they had an affirmative sentence. A whole damn story. A willy could now be part of the action, a player, a super hero, and the whatsit in pink could just sit and crochet at the sidelines.
So what was the real word? Did one exist? And why wasn't it being used?
When early adolescence came, even more silence came with it. What with "booboo" sounding far too childish, and the fact it was thought up in the family vaguely incestuous, it wasn't called anything at all. It was temporarily shelved.
Thanks to some makeshift identity-forging in late adolescence, the word "vagina" rocked up, with its flashing lights and all the impertinence of a new arrival. "Vagina" had umph, I'll give it that. It had status, anatomical prestige with a "fuck you" graffitied up the side. Punk rock's answer to tap-dancing. It didn't include the other band members though, the ones hanging round outside smoking a fag. It was mercilessly neglecting the one who holds it all together, the singer, or ahem - vulva, not to mention Ms Clitoris on lead guitar.
What was left for us to say then? What if we wanted, for argument's sake, to use the word, not for affirming our identity or achieving a better sense of self, but simply to communicate? Say, for example, a two-year old had to explain to a caregiver that something was hurting her, "booboo" wouldn't get her very far, would it?
Back in the bath, the Plesiosaurus - the only dinosaur with any real right to be in the water - was staring at me with menacing eyes, mirroring its owners. I was taking too long with my answer.
"Fanny," I splurted, then scanned the bath for some form of soap. I had expected it to sound more convincing, more definite. My son nevertheless nodded, seemingly satisfied, and turned to face the other dinosaurs in an orderly queue on the side of the bath.
"Sounds like 'funny'" he said after a few minutes.
The word wasn't mentioned again until over a year later, and we're in the bathroom again. The dinosaurs remain, more numerous than ever, but there's one new addition - a human baby sister. And her nappy is waiting to be changed. Examining the murky contents with a pinched nose, my son passes me a wet-wipe, hopping up onto the stool to get a bird's eye-view of proceedings.
"Why are you putting cream on her fanny, mummy?" he asks me, his chin cupped in his hands.
It is clear, communicative and oh so simple. Spoken from a child, the word of monumental taboo and kitsch shrugs of its shackles and becomes like any other.
Funny, isn't it?Suggest a correction