Innocuous words that sound sexual

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FLM writes:

A colleague (who has request anonymity) and I have developed a fondness for perfectly innocuous words which, to the linguistically unwashed masses, sound sexual. My colleague's example sentence is

Because her husband was intestate, she sought to dilate her fungible assets; despite cunctation for titivating, she managed to masticate and lucubrate far into the night.

A website of possible interest: Chuck Lorre Productions — words that confuse the CBS censor

I'd be curious to see how your Language Log aficionados might augment this body of knowledge.


  1. David Cameron Staples said,

    July 16, 2016 @ 4:48 am

    "Are you aware that Claude Pepper is known all over Washington as a shameless extrovert? Not only that, but this man is reliably reported to practice nepotism with his sister-in-law, he has a brother who is a known homo sapiens, and he has a sister who was once a thespian in wicked New York. Worst of all, it is an established fact that Mr. Pepper, before his marriage, habitually practiced celibacy."

    Which speech was apparently a hoax, but none the less awesome for that.

  2. Stan Carey said,

    July 16, 2016 @ 5:43 am

    Lists of words that sound rude but aren't appear regularly online; a search of keywords points to examples at Wordnik, Mental Floss, MeFi, HuffPo, etc.

  3. Jonathan said,

    July 16, 2016 @ 6:15 am

    Formication; defined here and used in this rather creepy Nabokov short story

    But why were formica kitchen worktops in the 1970s (perhaps they still exist) so called?

  4. GALESL said,

    July 16, 2016 @ 6:44 am

    I have to admit: this post really wurdled me posset, and made me nadgers glow like a cordwangle.


  5. Ken Morrison said,

    July 16, 2016 @ 7:26 am

    Pluck my nuggets.

  6. Karl Weber said,

    July 16, 2016 @ 7:37 am

    The gag about "thespian" has a long history. I remember Mad magazine decades ago depicting a political candidate declaring, "Not only is my opponent a thespian, but she has actually performed the act on stage in front of paying customers!"

  7. empty said,

    July 16, 2016 @ 8:14 am

    @Jonathan: I believe that "formica" the material is usually pronounced with stress on second syllable, to rhyme with "mica". It seems that its inventors originally intended it as a substitute for mica in electrical insulation.

  8. FM said,

    July 16, 2016 @ 8:21 am

    I've engaged in an activity that's called "proctoring" in some places and "invigilation" in others and either way sounds pretty anatomical.

  9. david said,

    July 16, 2016 @ 9:24 am

    Formica is the name of the ants that led to the name of formic acid and then to formaldehyde that was used to make the plastic. "mica" was used in the name of the plastic to sell it as a substitute for the insulating qualities of the mineral.

  10. Eric P Smith said,

    July 16, 2016 @ 9:47 am

    My brother once won a local competition to provide the best answer to the question “What is a bastion?” His answer was “An old English fornification”.

  11. David Morris said,

    July 16, 2016 @ 9:54 am


  12. Robert Coren said,

    July 16, 2016 @ 10:07 am

    There was a tale going about in the 1960s that a street interviewer had alarmed passersby by asking them if they were aware that Richard Nixon had scruples. (That sounds more like a disease than something sexual, although I suppose it could be assumed to be an STD.)

    (Editorial/political comment: Of course, in this case they had nothing to worry about, as the "charge" was clearly false.)

  13. Dan Milton said,

    July 16, 2016 @ 11:32 am

    I remember a sequence on "Candid Microphone" (before there was enough of a television audience for "Candid Camera") where Allen Funt asks unsuspecting persons "Do you have scruples?" Replies were on the line of "No, try the drugstore".

  14. Y said,

    July 16, 2016 @ 11:35 am

    When I first read of formic acid, I was fascinated and repulsed to find out that it was first obtained by the distillation of ants.

  15. Ernie in Berkeley said,

    July 16, 2016 @ 12:41 pm

    Saturday Night Live had some fun with "uvula". Audio here:

  16. Marta said,

    July 16, 2016 @ 3:59 pm


  17. Eric P Smith said,

    July 16, 2016 @ 4:20 pm

    Indeed formic acid is the only substance that is both an acid and an ant-acid. (That was terrible!)

  18. Lee said,

    July 16, 2016 @ 5:03 pm

    There's an old joke about someone who is trying to dissuade an uneducated person from giving a lot of money to a university. They scandalize the rube by explaining that girls and boys matriculate together, and share the same curriculum — and the girls can be forced to show their theses to male professors!

  19. zer said,

    July 16, 2016 @ 5:09 pm

    I can't hear the phrase low hanging fruit without thinking of testicles.

  20. Rubrick said,

    July 16, 2016 @ 5:36 pm

    There's "oral intercourse", which just means talking. "Anal intercourse", naturally, is talking out your ass.

  21. The Philadelphianist said,

    July 16, 2016 @ 6:34 pm

    This, from comedian Patton Oswalt, seems apropos (NSFW):

  22. Anthony said,

    July 16, 2016 @ 8:49 pm

    Some of these things sound less hands-on than they actually are: digital examination.

  23. ChinookManPhD said,

    July 16, 2016 @ 9:15 pm could kiss me on the veranda" (in The Three Amigos):

  24. ChinookManPhD said,

    July 16, 2016 @ 9:17 pm

    Or rather,

  25. JS said,

    July 16, 2016 @ 9:55 pm


  26. John Walden said,

    July 17, 2016 @ 2:58 am

    Then there are the multiple ejaculations in the Sherlock Holmes stories. They were famously mentioned in the British "Quite Interesting" programme and here's what it has to say about them:

    "Watson ‘ejaculates’ twice as often as Sherlock Holmes in Conan Doyle’s stories. There are 23 ejaculations in total, with 11 belonging to Watson. On one occasion, Holmes refers to Watson’s ‘ejaculations of wonder’ being invaluable; on another, Watson ejaculates ‘from his very heart’ in the direction of his fiancée. Holmes is only responsible for six ejaculations, although it is not clear which of the two men ejaculate in the passage below:

    So he sat as I dropped off to sleep, and so he sat when a sudden ejaculation caused me to wake up, and I found the summer sun shining into the apartment. The pipe was still between his lips, the smoke still curled upward, and the room was full of a dense tobacco haze, but nothing remained of the heap of shag which I had seen upon the previous night.
    The Man with the Twisted Lip, 1891

    A chap called Phelps ejaculated three times during the story of The Naval Treaty. The only other ejaculator is Mrs St Clair’s husband, who ejaculates at her from a second-floor window."

    Remember, Brit humour is both very highbrow and very lowbrow, sometimes both at once.

  27. Charles Antaki said,

    July 17, 2016 @ 4:58 am

    "I haven't had the pleasure…" Fnarr! And other classics from Viz's Finbarr Saunders (and his double entendres).
    No rare words here, but classic British low humour in abundance.

  28. Graeme said,

    July 17, 2016 @ 7:49 am

    Does anyone remember Viz Comic's 'Fnarr Fnarr' character? Who would imagine double entendres everywhere; then in the punchline of each strip would miss something utterly explicit.

    Relatedly, there are words whose fair usage is at risk of being drowned out by technical application related to sexuality. Yesterday, my 14 yo daughter upbraided me for using the word 'flaccid' in an otherwise drab conversation. So I summonsed memories of schoolyard giggles and rattled off 'viscous' as part of my verbal 'intercourse' to further 'arouse' her blush.

  29. Ralph Hickok said,

    July 17, 2016 @ 7:50 am

    Back when Tom Swifties were popular (, I came up with this one:

    "I'm coming, Holmes!" Watson ejaculated.

  30. James Wimberley said,

    July 17, 2016 @ 1:17 pm

    My opponent's policies are inspired by his chronic nympholepsy.

  31. Ari Corcoran said,

    July 17, 2016 @ 1:40 pm

    As a teenager, until I looked it up (as you did when you were looking for dirty words in the dictionary) "postprandial" had me going for a while.

  32. Hilary said,

    July 17, 2016 @ 3:17 pm

    And there is the doctor who diagnoses gonorrhoea, chlamydia and onomatopoeia.
    The patient asks what the last one is and is told that it is exactly what it sounds like.

  33. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 17, 2016 @ 4:35 pm

    Some of my students were shocked when I innocently said something had "shot its wad". A former boss disliked the phrase "blow it off".

    A friend thought that "crotchety" referred to the mood of someone whose crotch is irritated, and that "testy" referred to a personality more like stallions and bulls than like geldings and steers.

    There's the news story or urban legend about the p(a)ediatrician who was harassed by his neighbors.

    And some two-liners:

    "Your wife has acute angina."

    "I know, doc, but what's wrong with her?"


    "You too were shot in the fracas."

    "No, sir, I was shot midway between the fracas and the navel."

    (That's supposed to be actual court testimony. It works in Spanish, too, at least in Mexico.

    —¿Le dieron en el fregazo?

    —No, doctor, en el ombligo.)

  34. Jerry Friedman said,

    July 17, 2016 @ 4:38 pm

    How do you like Kipling?

  35. Mark S said,

    July 17, 2016 @ 8:39 pm

    There was an old British Candid Camera stunt where an attractive young woman, affecting a strong foreign accent, would go up to strangers in the street and ask them what "qualms" were. She said that her boyfriend had told her he didn't have any qualms, so she wanted to get some for him.

  36. Julian Neuer said,

    July 18, 2016 @ 9:56 am

    Conurbation. Millions of people doing it.

  37. Curtis G. Booth said,

    July 18, 2016 @ 10:42 am

    A membrane switch is not as much fun as it sounds like it might be.

  38. Greg said,

    July 18, 2016 @ 10:53 am

    People always weird out when I talk about macerating fruit.

  39. Rodger C said,

    July 18, 2016 @ 11:38 am

    @Jerry Friedman: I believe the original line was, "Which do you prefer, Kipling or Browning?"

  40. KeithB said,

    July 18, 2016 @ 3:27 pm

    In "The Thin Man" the dweeby little brother is talking to the press and says his father was a "sexageneran." The reporter cries "We can't print that!"

  41. Roscoe said,

    July 18, 2016 @ 4:40 pm

    @Jerry Friedman: there's also the moment in Disney's "Peter Pan" when Smee chides Captain Hook for "shooting a man in the middle of his cadenza."

  42. Jonathan said,

    July 18, 2016 @ 9:44 pm

    Two word phrases:
    Master debater
    cunning linguist

  43. Ajax said,

    July 18, 2016 @ 11:10 pm

    I was once eating lunch when someone asked me if I was masticating.

    @ John Walden: I think that's simply linguistic shift rather than dirty humour.

  44. John Walden said,

    July 19, 2016 @ 12:40 am

    Ajax, I'm sure it is. Like "making love" and "intercourse" can be.

    "They had no intercourse but what the commonest civility required" (Austen)

    “Here is Miss Nickleby,” observed Sir Mulberry, “wondering why the deuse somebody doesn’t make love to her.” (Dickens)

    But they are "Innocuous words that sound sexual".

  45. KeithB said,

    July 19, 2016 @ 7:49 am

    Another one from "The Thin Man"
    "It says you were shot 5 times in the tabloids"
    "That's a lie, he never came anywhere near my tabloids"

  46. Rodger C said,

    July 19, 2016 @ 11:53 am

    I suddenly recall an I Love Lucy where someone mentions "nuptials" and Lucy, I think pretending to be some sort of ignorant person, exclaims "There'll be no nuptials till after the wedding!"

  47. Eric P Smith said,

    July 19, 2016 @ 2:32 pm

    And the answer to "How do you like Kipling?" is, of course, "I don't know: I've never kippled."

  48. Ajax said,

    July 20, 2016 @ 3:54 am

    @John Walden: Ah, I see. Speaking of Dickens there's Master Bates (in Dombey and Son, I think?) – a pun which I think was more obvious at the time due to the way the first a in masturbate has shifted pronunciation.

  49. Eric P Smith said,

    July 20, 2016 @ 7:19 am

    There was a school mathematics textbook much used in the UK in the 1970s and 1980s titled "Sets, relations and functions".

  50. Robert Coren said,

    July 20, 2016 @ 10:31 am

    @Ajax: "due to the way the first a in masturbate has shifted pronunciation."

    I was unaware that it had. (is this a specifically British thing?)

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