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?
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: www.UrbanDictionary.com.) 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.
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: