Kathy Salaman had a short sharp lesson in euphemisms from a bunch of teenagers. She shares her embarrassment in the hope that you can avoid – or embrace – it.
I’ve always considered myself to be broadminded and unflappable. I love a really filthy joke, and an innuendo will have me tittering like a six-year-old boy talking about poo. However, I’m not always as savvy as I’d like to believe, and there have been many occasions where my naivety has resulted in embarrassment for me – and hilarity for others.
As I’ve discovered to my cost, one of the worst professions for a person who isn’t up-to-date with the latest slang or euphemistic expression is that of teaching, particularly in a ‘tough’ school. Perhaps the most excruciatingly embarrassing school-based example of my euphemistic ignorance occurred around five years ago. I was with a Year 10 class: a particularly sweaty mass of slovenly, hormonal 14- and 15-year-olds who had been dragged away from behind the gym, where they had been indulging in their usual lunchtime weed smoking and heavy petting, to study English literature.
I can’t remember which book we were reading, or the context of the remark, but I do know that I said something about a spit roast. I was aware of the sniggers and, thinking the pupils had somehow misunderstood my meaning, decided to elaborate. I asked if anyone had ever sampled a spit roast at a barbecue or fete; I said that, in my opinion, you couldn’t beat a good spit roast. (The repetition of ‘spit roast’ here is necessary to convey the horror of this situation.)
I was more than a little put out by the riotous reaction: anyone would have thought I’d said, “I love being shagged from behind by one bloke while giving head to another.”
“I was asked if my husband had given me a wedding present. As it happened, he had: a beautiful pearl necklace, which you can see me wearing if you want to check out my wedding photos on Facebook.”
Completely bemused, I mentioned this occurrence at the departmental meeting that evening. Two other members of staff were equally puzzled, but the rest almost pissed themselves. In fact, one colleague – a 26-year-old who was undoubtedly ‘down wiv da kids’ – fell off his chair and, for several minutes, continued to roll on the floor with mirth.
Once this young professional had managed to compose himself (although not enough to speak, it would seem) he drew a picture to explain the euphemistic ‘spit roast’: a couple of stickmen standing on either side of a horizontal stickwoman who seemed to be levitating. It took a while for the penny to drop, but once it did, I raced to the student support office to retrieve the behaviour sheets I’d completed for that lesson: the behaviour sheets that explained, in great detail, why certain members of the class would be staying for detention later that week.
This wasn’t the first time I’d been humiliated by a euphemism. In 1990, as one of the few female members of staff at an engineering company based in Northampton, I was asked by one of the young men – who was preparing for his wedding – if my husband had given me a wedding present.
As it happened, he had: a beautiful pearl necklace, which you can see me wearing if you want to check out my wedding photos on Facebook.
The engineer in question was most enthusiastic about seeing the photos, and naturally I was delighted to oblige. With it being 1990 and long before Facebook, this necessitated turning up for work the following day clutching a huge white velvet box. I thought it unusual that all the male engineers were rather keen to see my wedding album, and was equally puzzled when they drifted off looking rather disappointed.
The speed at which these euphemisms appear is quite frightening and I know now that I will never be aware of them all, but there is help out there: the eye-opening online Urban Dictionary.
I discovered this following an incident in August 2014. My husband was berating our then 19-year-old son and his mate about the state in which they’d left the kitchen.
“If you ever leave the house in a mess like this again, I’ll destroy you both!” (I heartily recommend this threat if you have teenage sons. Works a treat!)
Our son refused to explain why the remark was so hilarious, but recommended a visit to the aforementioned website. Amazing! I was on there for hours.
Well, a few days later I was interviewed by BBC Five Live about the latest Oxford Online Dictionary entries, particularly those considered to be more ‘slangy’. At last! An opportunity for me to demonstrate how intelligent and well informed I was about the very latest language trends.
Remember, this was live radio, so no opportunities for editing before broadcast.
“The taxi driver howled with laughter all the way back to my house, telling me it was the funniest radio interview he’d ever heard.”
During the course of the interview, I mentioned that the dictionary compilers were missing a trick by identifying just the new words and phrases appearing on the internet (‘YOLO’, ‘spit-take’ and ‘cray’, to name just a few) and that perhaps they could find a way of tracking existing and perfectly innocuous words that were being used for different contexts. The interviewer asked me to expand on that, probably hoping I’d refer to terms such as ‘sick’ and ‘dread’ (If you’ve worked with kids in the last 10 years, you’ll know these ones).
But no. I wanted to show off my latest discoveries. I just want to be clear here – especially if anyone from the BBC is reading this – that I had absolutely no intention of explaining the euphemistic definition of ‘destroy’ to R5L listeners. As soon the word had passed my lips, though, the interviewer cut me off with, “Thank you, Kathy; we have to stop you there.”
The taxi driver whom the BBC had kindly organised to take me to and from the studio had been listening to the show as his meter ran. He greeted me with a knowing grin as I clambered, red-faced, into the back of his cab. He then howled with laughter all the way back to my house, telling me it was the funniest radio interview he’d ever heard.
My husband greeted me at the front door with a similarly amused expression. He then spent the rest of that day doing impressions of a radio producer, miming the cut-throat thing with his hand and mouthing, “Get her off! Now!”
The comments I received on Facebook and Twitter (of course, I’d let everyone and his dog know what time they should tune in and hear me sounding intelligent on national radio) varied according to how savvy the commenter was. The less aware posted comments such as, “How rude she was to cut you off like that!”
Others, however, still rip the piss out of me to this day.
The moral of this story: if you’re over 40, don’t speak to anyone younger than you. And never speak on the radio. Ever.
How up-to-date is your knowledge of modern slang and euphemisms?
Whether you were puzzled by some of these phrases or scornful at my stupidity, have a go at the quiz below.
For some questions, all three answers are possible, but I’m looking for the one that 16-year-olds will know.
If you get stuck, check out www.urbandictionary.com; you might need a stiff one (f’nar f’nar) to steady your nerves.
1. Spit roast
a) Where a whole pig is skewered, cooked over a flame, and turned at regular intervals.
b) Where someone is given a good telling-off (a roasting) and is spat on.
c) Being shagged from behind by one bloke while giving head to another.
2. Pearl necklace
a) A pretty, shimmery necklace made with strung pearls.
b) A form of strangulation using jewellery.
c) Where a man ejaculates over a woman’s tits and/or neck, giving a necklace effect.
a) End the existence of something by damaging or attacking it.
b) Defeat someone or something.
c) Have hard sex with someone – man or woman – usually causing them to walk bow-legged for several days after.
4. Rusty bullet hole
a) A hole made by a bullet in a material such as iron, which has oxidised.
b) A hole made by a bullet that has oxidised.
c) An arse hole (as in the anal orifice – as opposed to the person who pisses you off).
5. Portuguese breakfast
a) A summery breakfast of fresh fruit, such as one you might enjoy while holidaying in Portugal.
b) A lunchtime breakfast, such as one you might enjoy while holidaying in Portugal.
c) The pouring of raw eggs into a man’s or woman’s sexual orifice, followed by a rigorous rogering, which (I am assured) scrambles the eggs.
a) A yummy bread-type cake, cut vertically down the middle and filled with whipped dairy cream.
b) A term used in Northern Ireland to refer to a Protestant.
c) The act of ejaculating between a pair of breasts, supposedly resembling option a above.
8. Eiffel Tower
a) A landmark cultural building in Paris.
b) A magnificent erection (not of the cultural kind in option a).
c) The c option for question 1, where the shagger and the one getting a blow job give each other a high five above the levitating woman.
How did you do?
Mostly a) Oh, you innocent thing! Your mind is as pure as Doris Day’s clunge.
Mostly b) You think you’re quite savvy, but a class of Year 10s would make mincemeat of you.
Mostly c) You are so savvy that no innuendo would ever catch you out. (Have you considered a career in teaching?)
Kathy Salaman is a former teacher who would like to see a fairer state education system, fewer wrinkles and world peace. She loves teaching English and maths, telling naughty jokes and reading geeky stuff.