Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Don't Touch My Junk! (Junk as a euphemism)

I was having a conversation today, with a colleague, that broached several topics. One thing I noticed, though, is that we are both people who like to take things apart and figure them out, although our perspectives are different. It might be germane to note that we are both massage therapists, though, and as such, are prone to such viewpoints and methods of thought. She commented on a few words that I used, that she was curious about, like "junk"- as in, "The circus juggler in the leotard stood on Homer Simpson's seat armrests, waving his junk in Homer's face."

"How did 'junk' become a euphemism for male genitalia?" she asked me. "I just learned about that recently, from my sister who teaches in a high school," she said. 

Obviously, other than being a name for Chinese boat, most people recognize 'junk' as something worthless, of no value, refuse or garbage. Well, that couldn't be where the slang meaning derived from, since our male-dominated culture and language makers most certainly would not see their crotch-meat that way. A little internet research yielded surprising results: According to author and lexicographer Grant Barrett, the first known us of 'junk' in this way appeared in a 1986 story set in gay culture called "Buddies" written by Ethan Mordden. In it, one character threatens to drag another outside and "kick your junk in."* Apparently, a decade later the term showed up again on an internet message board about wrestling. not long after, it was popping up all over the web, and even network television sit-coms. Ripe for punchlines, it has since gained mainstream appeal in its usage. Take a Jay Leno joke, for instance: "Did you hear the TSA's latest slogan? 'We handle more junk than e-Bay.'"

I don't remember when I first heard it, or used it, to be honest. But it seems to be commonly questioned, according to my perusal of message boards. Maybe it is not as foreign a term to me because of my heavy consumption of television and comedy, in particular. "Junk...junk. junk..." it ends in a 'K'- the funniest letter sound in the alphabet. The word is short, punchy, and Anglo-Saxon sounding, which, indeed, it is, since the word in its original meaning (an inferior rope) is less than two-hundred years old (late Middle English). So many other slang words for the male genitalia are embarrassing or unwieldy to say: "peee-nis", "crotch" (or my own coined word, "crotch-meat"), "manhood", "wedding tackle", "bits 'n' pieces", "twig and berries", etc. Many, many others are incomplete, referring to only the penis or the scrotum, and not the set. I think, even when heard for the first time, any native English speaker can quickly derive the meaning of the word 'junk'.  Some of those listed are too obscure to be understood, and also include others like "crown jewels". Although, obfuscation is, or was, the intent in the first place for most slang, anyway.

My various friends and I seem to choose to say 'junk' regularly. For instance, a friend of mine was recently in the second row to see Neil Patrick Harris in the Broadway production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. "Neil Patrick Harris was shaking his junk in the face of the guy sitting right nest to me!" she gushed. 

Junk is a random word choice for investigation; as my colleague and I discussed many things and had many moments of "stop-and-wonder". But, since I am such a purveyor of pop-culture, and a major linguaphile, born with what some might call a "gutter-mind", I decided to write about junk. Gives a hole new meaning to certain phrases, like "junk jewelry", "junk mail", and even "junk in the trunk" (which is a whole 'nother thing, that I'm not talking about today. Ore probably ever).


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