The Dirty Pun Catcher


I had my poetry critique group this afternoon. We were reading one person’s poem, and one of my suggestions for her was a stronger title that better tied into the content of the poem. So the three of us started brainstorming out loud, saying things that came to mind. One of the phrases that popped out of my mouth was “Venus Comes.”

Now those of you who are really on my wavelength – thanks to the title of this post – might already be giggling. But in that context, it was harder to catch the dirty pun. Venus, in her poem, was not the goddess equivalent to Aphrodite, but the planet. Plus, it was a phrase lifted from the poem itself. But once I said it out loud, I heard it differently, and I knew I had to nix that because she expressed that she liked that option and I refused to be responsible for an un-caught dirty pun if I could help it.

Here comes the awkward: “Uh. Um. Well, actually. You might… want to… consider… not using that phrase. Because…” *looks around* “It sounds naughty.”

I get blank stares, but press on, because these women are my friends, dammit, and if I can’t point out dirty puns to them, I might as well throw in the towel now.

“So Venus is the goddess of sex, right? And if you say she comes…”

Thank goodness the light of understanding dawned in their eyes and we were able to laugh about it and move on. And, once I told them the reason I never hold back on expressing unintentional dirty puns in someone else’s writing, they were even grateful. They said, hey, someone’s got to be the dirty pun catcher.

And that’s how I finally decided what job title to put on my business card.

What It Is

But seriously, what the hell is a Dirty Pun Catcher? In essence, it’s the person with enough guts to tell a writer they’ve unintentionally flubbed up their serious scene/poem/chapter with a hilariously misplaced dirty phrase. This is more often than not the person who was constantly snickering in the back of the classroom in high school (guilty).

Said person might be a first reader, a member of the writer’s critique group, an online buddy, or even a last reader. They might circle the dirty pun and let the writer puzzle it out for herself, or they might voice the pun aloud to get a good laugh. Either way, this person is a good person to have around, because they catch things like…

My Real-Life Example

The very first time I ever brought anything in to my prose critique group (gosh, almost 3 ½ years ago!), I took a piece of flash fiction that I was pretty proud of. (Hell, I’m still proud of it – and I still believe it deserves to be published. So if anyone knows of a credible venue willing to consider very dark literary fantasy at flash lengths, by all means let me know.) I sat down with this group of friendly strangers and held my breath until they’d all read it. What would they think?

They loved it. Not in that I already know you and like you so I like what you do way, but in that You’re a complete stranger and I still like what you do way. I was thrilled. Ecstatic. In the clouds. And then, at the very last minute of my time, one man spoke up.

Turns out, at one point, I had the unfortunate phrasing of having my dragon “shifting on its jewels.” I laughed pretty hard, and the (very nice) man explained that the hilarity of that misfire really threw him out of the otherwise serious – even somber – tone of the piece. I suppose some people could have been offended or annoyed, but I was grateful. And I have been ever since, which is why I now wear the Dirty Pun Catcher hat myself.

Who Needs One

You. You. And you, too.

Everyone needs a Dirty Pun Catcher. Even if (maybe even especially if) you think you’re above such things. Yes, maybe you’re too mature to think accidental dirty phrasings are funny, but here’s the thing: your reader isn’t. Why would anyone risk potentially losing readers instead of just biting the bullet and making what’s usually a very easy fix?

Some Universals That Have to Stop

My favorite (least favorite) unintentionally dirty-sounding word?

  • finger

This is often an age thing, I’ve noticed, so maybe it has to do with changing lingo or something but… “fingered” means something pretty graphic to most of us. (No, I’m not spelling these out. Here: It used to primarily mean to meddle around with something, like to anxiously finger the zipper on a sweatshirt, for example. But now the primary (yes, primary) connotation is something that teenagers do in the back seats of cars. So unless your story takes place a few centuries ago or more, you’ve got to find a different word to use now please thank you.

Other words and phrases to be wary of, depending on the context:

  • jewels (see above)
  • the back door
  • pitching / catching
  • coming (see top)
  • the one-eyed anything

Please note that I’m not saying you can’t use these anymore. I’m just saying that a prudent writer will be aware that some of these, in the right/wrong context, will make your readers chuckle in a way you don’t want. The whole dirty-minded world will thank you for not knocking them out of your story; I promise.

A Word of Caution

Don’t become that person who constantly and relentlessly points out every phrase that can be feasibly construed to be something perverted despite the context.

Don’t be insensitive to people who are easily embarrassed. If you think their gaffe will make them uncomfortable, just write it on their paper instead of saying it out loud in front of a group.

And don’t point out dirty puns to authors of already published books. If they can’t change it, don’t bring it up. That’s just mean.

The Take-Away

So there you have it: my argument in favor of Dirty Pun Catchers. If you agree, I dub thee knighted. Go forth and help thy fellow man; catch those dirty puns before it’s too late.

Readers, do you have any experiences finding unintentional dirty puns? (If the book is *ahem* already out there, you might want to make it anonymous for the author’s sake.) Writers, have you ever had someone point out a dirty pun to you? Any universal ones you’d like to add to the list?

Any characters who come from Nantucket? 😉

Share this:
This entry was posted in Silly Stuff and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.
  • Pegab

    I’m rather randomly reminded of a quote I read today:

    “Dear People of the World,

    I don’t mean to sound slutty, but please use me whenever you want.


  • -j-

    Giggling my way through this post. And I need a dirty pun catcher to simply walk around with me and point out to people in my real life that I almost never mean to do it. I give my boys more “that’s what she said” opportunities than any mere mortal could. Unintentional dirtiness is one of my superpowers. (I have others, equally damning.)

    Feel free to point mine out to me ANY TIME.

    • Ha! I adore “that’s what she said” jokes. As well as the closely-related “in my pants.” So don’t worry; you’re giving your sons great fodder for fond memories. =) Also, I’m now imagining someone with a clipboard following you around catching dirty puns by subtly writing them down and showing them to you mid-conversation. A real-life Dirty Pun Catcher!

  • Love the business card, haha! I’m a little paranoid at the moment that I have some unnoticed dirty puns floating around in something I’ve written, though I’m probably not *so* out of touch with pop culture / slang to miss something obvious. Other good things to point out in manuscripts: typos that accidentally create real, awkward words. I’ve seen an official government document that dropped a few crucial letters from “organism,” and a major company powerpoint that repeatedly left the L out of “public.” Someone’s got to be keeping an eye out for those too!

    • Yes! The Freudian typo! I forgot about that, but that creates some of the funniest ones. One time in school this girl had “testicles” instead of “tentacles” written in her Power Point for research on Octopi. =D That was a great laugh, but I felt sorry for her. And the public/pubic debacle was my alma matter, the University of Texas at Austin printed some graduation programs with that typo on the cover! o.O Should have hired a Dirty Pun Catcher!

    • Dahnya Och

      I hate those typos… last week, I was working on some specifications for an engineer. He was making me really nervous by reading over my shoulder as a typed his edits… and I typed “50 gallons/sex” instead of “50 gallons/sec.” He thought it was a laugh riot.

      I, on the other hand, was mortified for days.

      • Awww. It’s only funny if both people think it’s funny. Not so funny if one person is embarrassed! =/ Sorry Dahnya.

  • LOL-and-a-half! I adore your business card! And you found the perfect sleaze photo to go with your warning!

    I’ve never had a dirty pun pointed out, or had to point one out (that I can remember). But my mind is very fast on stuff like that and I would discreetly find a way to point it out to any writer I know if I saw it saving them from embarrassment.

    This was not a dirty pun, per se, but there was a sentence in a novel I was reading that still really bugs me because of how badly it took me out of the story. It was an overkill sentence in an otherwise perfect chapter describing a crass old man who (disappointingly) had turned out to be the main character’s real father. In that one moment, it went from being one of the most brilliant chapters in the book to having been ruined by an off sentence. It was so off-key, I even wonder if the editor slipped that in there, thinking he/she was helping build the character. Ugh.

    • Oh man, that sounds bad! Wouldn’t you just love to know how that happened?

      Sounds to me like you might already be a Dirty Pun Catcher on the sly, Milli! A Catcher with class. =)

  • KelsNotChels

    I’ve had to just accept that my fairy tale infused MS is going to have SEVERAL moments of o_O when home girl keeps talking about “happy endings”!


    • Oh, that’s a good one! Now I’ll be hearing that as I read your MS in critique group. And giggling.

  • This is hysterical!!! Love the business card. SO agree re: “finger” and the others.

  • Read an article today that said master chess players see a chess board completely different from everyone else, as if they have a different set of eyes.

    I am a master dirty pun player:-)

  • I am so glad to hear you confess to this “talent,” Annie. I say that because this is a very important task in a news room, and there were many times as an editor I stopped something from reaching print that would have not been at all good. It is critical to do so in headlines. There is a famous one I remember hearing about recently where a headline writer wrote of a veto-happy governor that his “pen is a sword,” but they left out the space between “pen” and “is.” (I suspect the governor was flattered!)

    Knowing you have a mind for this makes me feel a little better about my “talent.”

    • That is so hilarious! What a great gaffe. And I think Leno has poven that you’re right about the importance of people like us when it comes to headlines!

  • Melissa Crytzer Fry

    Oh my, Annie. HILARIOUS. “Shifting on its jewels.” In my current novel, my writing partner pointed out that I really should NOT have my character “stroking” the piece of paper in his pocket as he nervously talks to a woman. Ha ha ha.

    Yep. She’s a dirty pun catcher, and I thank her for it.

    • Hooray! There are more of us out there. =D And that’s a particularly good catch. It’d be especially bad in a movie, hehe.

  • Pingback: j’s Journey: Superhero advice for writers | Fear of Writing()

  • I’m like the Beavis (and Butthead) of our writing group — or, for that matter, anywhere.  Who knew it could be a good thing?  I love your business card!  And the dragon shifting on it’s jewels (visual firmly embedded in my psyche now … er, better add “firmly” to the list)!   Also “junk” … especially when the junk belongs to someone or is put somewhere.  Great post! 

    • Ah yes, “junk” is a classic! Beavises and Buttheads like us should start a club or something. =) Thanks Terri.

  • Katy

    I have a bad habit of saying “one sec” way too much. Imagine my surprise when I accidently said “secs”. Go ahead. Say it out loud.

    • Haha! Katy, I think I’ve said that one myself. “Just give me a couple secs.” Hilarious!

  • Katy

    This post has a lot of build-up, but it’s funny at the end.

    I’m deciding to continue my reign of dorkiness and dress up for Halloween this year. I’m going as Dany Targaryen from ‘Game of Thrones’. If you’re unfamiliar with the show/book, this girl has *killer* braids. And dragons. (Hehe. I’m so immature. ;)) My and my other friends call our one friend, Jamie, the Queen of Braids. (French, Dutch, etc, she can do them all.) While we were waiting for something to boil in science class the other day, I was telling her about my costume, emphasizing the braid part. So I said, “And if my wig comes unbraided, you can do it again.” So she said, “I’m a masterbraider.” Then I said, “Really Jame, you’re a masterbraider?” Then she finally got the ‘masterbator’ joke. 😉 (I’m actually just happy Mrs. Reilly didn’t hear us!)