Sunday, November 23rd — Sex Verbs

November 24, 2008

Today I Learned…

…something very interesting about how we talk about sex in English.  All of the “vulgar” verbs for the sex act are transitive verbs — in that they can fit into the construction John verbed Mary (please substitute Joan and Larry respectively, one or both, if you prefer):

fuck, screw, hump, ball, dick, bonk, bang, shag, pork, shtup

All of the more polite verbs are intransitive — they require a preposition to introduce the sexual partner:

have sex, make love, sleep together, go to bed, have relations, have intercourse, mate, copulate

Gotta love how attitudes towards sex are encoded in the very grammar of the language we’ve all agreed on.  Got this from Steven Pinker’s book The Stuff of Thought, which I would recommend for anyone who is nerdy on the cognitive science or language level.


2 Responses to “Sunday, November 23rd — Sex Verbs”

  1. Nick Says:

    Very cool! That makes perfect sense, too. I wonder if this pattern holds for non-sexual words as well – do we consider intransitive verbs in general to be inherently more polite than their transitive counterparts? Good food for nerd thought.

  2. Old Guy Says:

    I think it’s only proper that we be introduced to our boinking partner, don’t you?

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