What We Talk About When We Talk About Penis
So I’m reading this short story by Etgar Keret called One Gram Short when I come across this sentence: “It still doesn’t sit right, but when Avri puts it that way it’s hard for me to say no without coming off like a penis.” I read it again. Just like you just did. Penis. Penis? What does he mean? It seems like the wrong word, imprecise, too anatomical, or just a lazy translation. The story was written in colloquial Hebrew by Keret and translated by Nathan Englander. Englander is no lazy interpreter. He wrote What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank, a collection of eight short stories that was in the running for a Pulitzer Prize. He has converted lots of short stories and The New American Haggadah too, a jazzy version of the sacred text that sets forth the order of the Passover Seder (seder means order). With Jonathan Safran Foer as his editor, it took Englander three years to translate the Haggadah from Hebrew and Aramic into English, which was longer than the actual exodus from Egypt.
“It still doesn’t sit right, but when Avri puts it that way it’s hard for me to say no without coming off like a penis.” Penis is no accident, of that we can be certain. Yet, there is no clue as to the Hebrew word Keret used in the original. Zayin is the literal reverse translation. It comes from the Biblical word for sword and surely has subtext. Zayin also means to leave early. (Supply your own “early” joke, or sub-subtext.) Yiddish expressions for penis are plentiful in Israel: shmuck (fool), schmeckel (small penis), putz (prick), shtupper (that which shtups or pushes), petzl (dirty penis), petzeleh (little petzle) schtickl (small penis/comedy routine), schvantz (tail), schlong (snake).
Englander chose none of the above. He had his reasons, even if they elude this reader and penis continues to stick out like, well, a sore thumb. Context could be a tip-off. Penis, like tofu, is illuminated by the flavors in which it was marinated or cooked.
One Gram Short is about a guy too shy to ask a waitress for a date, so he figures he could invite her to share a joint if he could score some dope, which he tries to do. There is a lawyer and an Arab and a courtroom scene and…never mind the story. It is unhelpful. The issue here remains penis. Merriam-Webster says is “the part of the body of men and male animals that is used for sex and through which urine leaves the body.” Rhymes with Venus and genus. And could mean, in English idiom and everyday parlance, empty-headed, intransigent, belligerent, nasty, uncompromising, and a thousand other things.
So I asked Nathan Englander. I think. I used Tumblr and Twitter. I also emailed Englander’s agent, his publisher, and then Etgar Keret. I heard back from none of them. Each of them acted like a penis. Which means mute or coy or arrogant or sullen or a thousand other things.
Come to think of it, there may be more synonyms for penis than any other word in the English language. When one gets on a roll, almost any noun could stand in for penis, from anaconda to zucchini, with any words in between that are modified with Big or Little or Mister or One-eyed.
Here is an incomplete, unofficial and sort of alphabetized compendium of a thousand penis substitutes. If your favorite has been overlooked, please feel free to add to the list. You will not be considered a… (fill in the blank).
Aaron’s rod, accordion, accoutrement, Adam’s dagger, all-beef sausage, anaconda, anteater, apparatus, appendage, arbor vitae, arm-of-love, arrow, arse-opener
baby arm, baby-maker, baggage, baggette, bagpipe, bald eagle, bald-headed mouse, baloney pony, bamboo stick, banger, banjo string, bannocks, bat-and-balls, baton, battering ram, bauble, bayonet, bazooka, beak, bean pole, bean-shooter, bean tosser, beard-splitter, beaver cleaver, beef, beef whistle, burrito, bishop, bratwurst, Beecham’s pills, beef jerky, belt buster, best friend, Bethlehem Steel, bicho, big Ben, big bird, big brother, big daddy, big dipper, big head, Big Jim, big pink, bilbo, billy club, binky, bird, bishop, blade, blackjack, Blind Bob, blow pop, blow stick, blowtorch, bluebeard, blueskin, bonbon, bone phone, boneless, boner, boney maroni, boneroni, bonker, boy toy, brat getter, broom handle, Brown Joe, bruiser, bubbly jack, bucking bronco, Buckinger’s boot, bugle, bulge, bull, bum tickler, bun spreader, bung, burrito, bush beater, bush whacker, business, buster, butcher, butt basher, butt smasher, butterfinger, butterknife
Canadian bacon, candle, candy cane, cannon, captain, Captain Standish, carrot, Casey, cavity prober, change purse, chanticleer, Charley, chaud, cheese, cherry picker, cherry splitter, Chicken McNugget, chimney-stopper, chingus, choker, chones, chooza, chopper, chota, christener, chubby, chuckies, chum, chunky monkey, cinnamon stick, cob,cobra, cock, Cockaroony, cockadoodle, cockknuckle, coconuts, codpiece, cojones, cold meat, Colleen Bawn, come factory, command module, cookie, corker, coupler, crack hunter, crackerjack, crankshaft, creamsicle, crotch rocket, crowd pleaser, crumpet-trumpet, cucumber, cullions, culty-gun, cum slinger, cunny-catcher, cunt-stabber, cunt-stretcher, Cupid’s torch, custard-chucker, cutlass, Cyclops
daddy longleg, daddy mack, dang, danger, dangle, dangle-dong, dangler, diggler, dead meat, deadwood, derrick, devil, diamond cutter, dibble, dick-tator, dick up, dick wheat, dickery-dock, Dickie, Dick wad, diddly-whacker, digitis erectus, dilly-wicker, ding-a-ling, ding-dong, dingle-dangle, dinger, dingle, dingo, dingus, dipstick, Dirk Diggler, discostick, do-dad, do-hickey, do-jigger, Dr. Johnson, dong, donger, donkey kong, donniker, donut holder, doodle, doodle-flap, dopper, dork, drain pipe, driving post, droopy, drumstick, ducky-bird, dummy
eggroll, ejac vac, Elmer Pudd, equipment, eye dropper, eye-opener
family jewels, fang, Fat Frank, Father Confessor, ferret, fire hose, fuck rod, fiddlestick, finger puppet, firebrand, firm worm, fish stick, flagpole, flap-doodle, flapper, flesh pencil, flip-flap, flounder flute, foot long, foreman, fornicator, fountain pen, Fred, frick, frick’n’frack, frigamajig, front porch, fuck muscle, fuck pole, fud packer, funny bone, fun-zone
gap-stopper, garcha, gator, gear, gearshift, genitalia, gentle fist, gherkin, giggle stick, glory pole, glow rod, goat, gobstopper, gonads, gones, goober, good foot, good parts, goolies, goose neck, goy-toy, gravy-giver, gristle-stick, gully-raker, groin ferret, G-spotter
hacker, hair-splitter, ham-and-eggs, hambone, hammer, hanging chad, happy sack, hard-on, hard salami, Hardhat Harry, hardware, harpoon, hat-rack, he-thing, heirlooms, hermit, hickey, hissing Sid, ho-handle, hole puncher, holy pole, honeydipper, horsemeat, hose, hot dog, hot-rod, huevos, heat-seeking hose, hog
instrument, Irish horse, Irish toothpick
Jack-in-the-box, jackalope, jackhammer, Jackie Robinson, Jackson Pollock, jammy, jang, jawbreaker, jellyroll, Jenny Tull, jackhammer,
Jimmy, jig-jag, jig-jigger, jigger, jiggle bone, Jimbo, jimbrowsky, jing-jang, jingleberry, jizzbag, John, Johnson, John Thomas, John Willie, Johnny-come-lately, johnson, joint, Jolly Red Giant, jolly roger, jolly stick, joyknob, joystick, Julius Ceasar, jungle meat, junk
kazoo, kickapoo, kickstand, kielbasa, King King Dong, knacker, knick-knack, knob, knitting needle, knobster, kosher dill, Krull the warrior king
ladies’ lollipop, lame duck, lance-of-love, langer, Lazarus, leaky hose, lever, libido bandido, licorice stick, life preserver, lipstick, little Bob, little brother, little Buddy, Little Dipper, little Elvis, little friend, little man, little Willy, lizard, longfellow, love muscle, loaded gun, Lone Ranger, Long Dong Silver, Longfellow, long pork, Louisville Slugger, love apples, love machine, love muscle, love nuts, love spud, Luigi, lunchbox, lust bone
Mad Max, Mad Mick, magic-wand, magnum, main-vein, manhood, man-root, manbone, marrow-bone, master-of-ceremonies, maypole, meat-axe, meat-popsicle, meat-stick, meat-injection, meat whistle, member, merrymaker, middle-stump, Mickey, middle leg, milk bone, milkman, Mister Happy, Mister Softy, Mister Wiggly, Mister Big, Mister Wong, missile, mushroom-head, mutton, mutton musket
nabo, needle-dick, nether regions, Niagara Falls, night stick, nightcrawler, nimrod, nine iron, nippy, noodle, nubbin, nudger, nuts-and-bolts, nutty buddy
old boy, old faceful, old fellow, Old Faithful, Old Faithless, one-eyed monk, one-eyed monster, one-eyed snake, one-eyed wonder, one-eyed yogurt slinger, one-eyed zipper, organ, Oscar Meyer
P.Diddy, P-maker, package, pantilever, pants, python, passion, pole, pax wax, peacemaker, pecker, pecker wood, peenie, peep, pee-pee, peepee hole, peeper, peewee, peezel, peg, pen, pencil, pencil dick, pendulum, penicillus, penie, penis immensus, peppermint stick, perch, Percy, pestle, peter, phallus, phallus erectus, phallus induratus, phallus rigidus, piccolo, pickle, piddler, pikestaff, piledriver, pilgrims staff, pillicock, pichita de oro, pico, pinga, pink cadillac, pink cigar, pinkler, piroca, piss handle, pissworm, piss weasel, pistol, piston, pito, pizzler, placket-racket, plonker, ploughshare, plugger, plunger, P-maker, pogo-stick, pointer, poker, pole, Polyphemus, Pondsnipe, pone, pood, poontanger, popsicle, popsicle stick, poronga, pork, pork sword, pocket rocket, pounder, prairie oyster, priapus, prick, prickle, princess sophia, private eye, private part, pride-and-joy, pride-of-the-morning, private parts, privy limb, prod, pronger, pud, pudding, pump, pump handle, punisher, puppy, purple-headed avenger, purple lollipop, purple-headed-yogurt-flinger, pussy diver, pussy pleaser, pussy plunger, pussy-poker, putter, putz, pylon, python
rabbit, rabo, radish, ram charger, ramrod, randy, ranger, reamer, red cap, red lobster, Red Ryder, rig, rigid digit, riser, rise-in-the-Levis, rock formation, rocket, rock candy, rod, rod of pleasure, Rodney, Roger the Lodger, rolling pin, rooster, rotorooter, rough rider, roundhead, royal jewels, rudder, ruffian, rump-splitter
salami, salty dog, sausage, schlong, schmekel, schmeegle, schmuck, schnitzel, schwanz schwing, schwang, screwdriver, serpent, semen first class, sex pistol, shaft, shaft of Cupid, shaft of delight, shit stick, shlong, shmecker, shmendrik, shotgun, skin flute, stick shift, surfboard, shlong, shooting iron, short arm, shriveller, shtick, sinbad, skin flute, sleeping bag, sleeping beauty, slug, snake, soldier, solicitor general, spear, sperm gun, spike, spindle, spitter, spitstick, spooge gun, spunk holders, Spunky, staff stag, stalk, stand, star-gazer, steak, steely dan, stick, sticker, stickshift, sticky finger, stiff, stiff arm, stiff-on, stiffy, stinger, stocking, stuffer, stonk, stork, stud, stud meat, stuffy, stump, sugar stick, Sunday best, swack, swanska, sweet meat, swizzle, sword
tail pin, taladro de carne, tallywag, tallywhacker, Tarzan, taters, teenie-weenie, 10-Pounder, tent peg, tent pole, Texas longhorn, thing, thingy, thing-a-ling, thingamabob, thingamajig, thingamaling, third leg, Thomas, three-inch fool, three-piece suit, throb knob, throbbing python, thumb of love, thumper, tickle-gizzard, tickle-toby, tickler, tiddelly pod, tiki-tiki, tilt on a kilt, tittle-bat, todger, tom-tom, Tom Dooly, Tom Jones, TomThumb, Tommy Rollicks, Tommy Tune, tong, tonk, tonsil-tickler, tonsil wrench, toobsnake, toobsteak, tool, tootsie roll, tool bag, towel rack, toy, trap stick, tree of life, tree of love, Tricky Dicky, trigger, trombone, trouble giblets, trouser ferret, trouser trick, trout, trumpet, truncheon, trypan, tube-steak, tug mutton, turkey baster, twanger, tweeterfrank, twiddle-diddler
Uncle Dick, unit, upright grand, upscope, Urals
vegetable stick, Venetian blinds, verga, VIP, virgins dream, vitals
wag, wammer, wand, wang, wanger, wang bone, wang-tang, wangdoodle, wanker, wankrod, water pistol, water spout, water works, wazoo, wazzock, weapon, wedding kit, wedge, wedge bone, wee, wee-man, wee-wee, weenie, weiner, well-hung, well-knobbed, wet noodle, whalebone, whacker, whammer, whatchamacalli, whatsis, whatsit, wheeze, whip, whirlygigs, whisker splitter, whistle, white owl, whoopie stick, whopper, whore-pipe, wick, Wicked Willie, wiener, wigga-wagga, Wilde Oscar, willy, Willie the Worm, wimpy, wingdoodle, winkie, winkie wankie woo, winkle, winny the poo, wire, wishbone, women pleaser, womb broom, won ton, wonger, wood, Woodrow, woody, Woody Johnson, woofer, wooter, worm, wurst
yack, yang, yard, ying-yang, yoyo, yum-yum, yutz
zack, zab, zap, Zen stick, zeppelin, zinger, zipperfish, zoob, zoobrick, zookeeper, zubb, zubrick, zucchini, zupra