April 25, 2010

Language Can Be Tricky

I’ve been working on a long overdue rewrite of my book, Learning The Ropes: A Basic Guide to Safe and Fun S/M Lovemaking. As part of that rewrite, I was considering rephrasing the subtitle for the new edition. One of my quandaries was the use of the acronym S/M. Since the original book was published in 1992, I wondered if the S/M form of the acronym still held up. So I created a Facebook post and asked my friends this question: “Do you prefer one of these acronym configurations over the other: S&M or S/M or SM?” The replies stimulated a very long thread of discussion.

As background, most of my Facebook friends are at least somewhat kinky or kink friendly. So this is an appropriate question for that forum. Here’s a sampling of the responses with a few of them rephrased. There are a lot of them, but I think it’s important to see the variety. (My thanks to everyone who participated in this discussion thread. You folks rock!)

  • SM for sadomasochism.
  • I prefer the & symbol, the / is so “modern.”
  • SM please. I don’t know why I don’t like S/M. When I see S&M I think stand and model.
  • I prefer S/M. I outright dislike S&M in that it implies that sadism and masochism are separate phenomena. SM just looks a little graceless to me, but I don’t feel strongly about that.
  • In my opinion, B&D (no question of the ampersand in that one) may be encompassed in SM (S/M), but SM is not necessarily encompassed in B&D. I’ve always made a distinction between the two. So I don’t like putting them all together.
  • BDSM is what I use most of the time.
  • Well, then you get into does it include the whole D/s thing and it all gets so confusing.
  • I know several people who use the blanket term Kink because it covers a myriad of deviant behavior. Personally, when I am conversing I use the term Leather amongst my friends.
  • I like S/M with the /, but I’ve noticed the younger generation uses BDSM most often.
  • I tend to say dom and kink, but I use the BDSM term most of the time.
  • I like and use SM, B&D and BDSM. Sadomasochism is one word which represents both Sadism and Masochism. Bondage and Discipline on the other hand are two distinctly different words. For me BDSM has Dom and Sub right in the middle as well.
  • I typically don’t use SM separately, preferring as often as possible to use BDSM as a reminder of the full scope of what we do.
  • I’m not sure why I prefer SM over S/M, but I do. And S&M has become associated with “Stand and Model.”
  • I dislike BDSM because I came from the era when S/M or SM was the umbrella term. I loathe balkanization of the kink communities, creating distinctions that factionalize and disempower us all. However, I have reluctantly succumbed to BDSM because it seems to be the most widely understood term.
  • In my experience, BDSM is the only term widely understood in the heterosexual/pansexual communities, while SM is still the primary term in the LGBT communities.
  • In written communication, I prefer to read “BDSM.” It parses well and avoids superfluous punctuation. In spoken communication, I prefer to enunciate the “and” and shorten the phrase to “S&M” or “B&D.”
  • “Kinky”reminds me of words like “twink”and acronyms like “D.I.N.K.” It’s way more than a little cute for my taste and for me it literally sucks the darkness and eroticism out of the discussion.
  • For most folks coming in to the scene these days, BDSM is the term they’re more likely to recognize as inclusive.
  • BDSM seems to be correct to me. And SM isn’t supposed to be “inclusive.” That’s politically correct BS that has watered down S&M. Actually, just hearing “inclusive” is a turn off to me. I say “S&M” though I find myself slipping and saying SM because of how prevalent it is.
  • I’ve always found that the various terms are used differently in the different communities.
  • I tend to change what I use depending on who I am talking to. Since the majority of folks I talk to lately are gay men, I would say SM (saying S and M seems antiquated). When I’m talking to someone who may not be familiar with kink, I tend to use BDSM (but never say BD and S and M). Also when speaking with someone I also know to be kinky I often say Kink or Perv or Pervy.
  • I use BDSM and kink in the same way others use LGBT and queer.
  • I emphasize the importance of not assuming what someone might mean when they use any particular term. Definitions of particular words vary historically and by community. I encourage people to go ahead and ask “What do you mean when you say ____,” or even “This is the way I use _____,” to get the dialogue going.

And as one person aptly put it, “I am thankful that I don’t have to write about it and can just do it. Whew!” I can understand their thankfulness for not having to navigate what can be a tricky nomenclature us kinky folks use.

So, here’s my point. Please let’s not get too caught up in the language we use because language, by its very nature, is inexact. What is “top” or “kinky” or “sub” or whatever descriptor we use means to us is quite likely not going to mean exactly the same thing to someone else. Giving each other some latitude with our terminology can avoid a lot of misunderstandings and arguments. And let’s forget coming up with a “better” way to put something. I’m not sure it exists. Again, language is inexact. Let’s just cut each other some slack and spend some time getting to know what each other really means when we use such terms.

2 Comments on “Language Can Be Tricky

April 26, 2010 at 11:11 am

Hehehe. Holy fuck.

language is inexact

Navigating between different languages makes things even weirder. For example, in English, I use ‘BDSM’ in sentences where in German, I say ‘Sadomasochismus’.

All the best for the rewrite of your book, whatever the new edition will be called!

Alan Arthur Chiras
May 3, 2010 at 3:51 am

Did similar thought go into use of the term “Gay” for Homosexual? I will be using BDSM now, though I was raised to use S/M.

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