The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

Breasts Or “Boobs”?

Posted by Clem Bastow on November 29, 2008

A little ‘think piece’ for the feminist grammar freaks/etymology fans/word nerds out there: am I the only person who prefers my colloquialisms and neologisms and my “proper” language, at least in the context of journalism, kept separate?

Consider this news.com.au story about a German court’s ruling that medical insurance funds shouldn’t have to cover elective breast reduction surgeries (in cases of back pain and hindrance of movement, the denial of which is arguably fodder for another whole Chorus entry). Watch what happens to the wording about halfway through:

A COURT has ruled that insurance companies do not need to cover the cost of breast reduction surgery.

The court ruled ruled that having a large bust is not a medical problem and as such insurers will only have to pay to correct breasts which are deformed.

The case was brought by a 38-year-old woman who suffered orthopaedic and physical problems due to the weight of her boobs, bild.com reports.

Yes, “boobs”. The term is used a handful more times in the piece, and let’s not ignore the headline:

German court rules big boobs are not a medical problem

Shonky journalism or something deeper? Or no big deal?

It’s possibly due to the fact that “boobs” has never been one of my favourite euphemisms for breasts (it seems too hard a word, like “tits”), but I question its appropriateness in this context (i.e. a news story, which should as such be straight “reportage”).

True, certain words do enter the vernacular – witness the rise of the (in my view, insipid and infuriating) “vajayjay” – and boobs is certainly not new, and its usage is obviously widespread. But just because it’s in common usage, as is the aforementioned “vajayjay”, doesn’t mean it should necessarily be freely used in this context. After all, imagine a report about, say, increasing amounts of labiaplasty operations saying, “The number of women electing to have cosmetic procedures on their vajayjays has increased by 17% in the past five years.”

What do you think? And how do you feel about the supposed uncomfortableness of the word “vagina” (and I guess to a lesser extent, “breasts”) that leads to the apparent need for nonthreatening euphemisms?

10 Responses to “Breasts Or “Boobs”?”

  1. Nico said

    I agree that the use of ‘boobs’ in news writing is inappropriate, just b/c it’s colloquial if nothing else.

    But if you want to call ‘vajayjay’ a non-threatening euphemism, it’s also worth remembering that non-threatening euphemisms for genitalia are used across genders. There are plenty of penis-substitutes in the vernacular. I agree with the linguist interviewed for the NYT article:

    “a need for a word for female genitalia that is not clinical, crude, coy, misogynistic or descriptive of a vagina from a man’s point of view.”

    I’m not saying that vajayjay is the best word, but it’s a possibility I guess.

  2. Rosetta said

    The use of the word ‘boobs’ trivialises what is a serious and important story for women.

    Breast reduction surgery is utilised to treat legitimate medical problems that arise from having very large breasts. It’s no different to having one leg longer than the other, or curvature of the spine, or any other condition where a part of the body is out of proportion and this causes other problems to arise.

    Of course these procedures should be subsidised by private and public medical funds.

  3. hannahcolman said

    I hope one day we see a headline like “Man has surgery to elongate his wang”.

  4. Fat Academic said

    Vajayjay is pathetic. Why can’t we just use the word vagina? Or vulva even seeing as most of the people using the word vajayjay seem to be referring to their vulva anyway. Vagina or vulva and penis. They aren’t so bad. Sometimes I thnk I must be the only parent who teaches her children to use the ‘correct’ words for their genitals.

    And the idea that breast reduction is never a medical issue… that just shows that judge has never had big breasts and has no idea of the pain they can cause.

  5. Bearded Lady said

    Whether one thinks breast reduction surgery should or shouldn’t be covered by public and private health insurance, the use of the word ‘boobs’ in this article seems totally inappropriate. It trivializes what seems to be a legitimate medical issue and implies that the litigant was motivated by female vanity and avarice.

    ‘Vajayjay’ makes my stomach turn. What’s wrong with ‘vagina’? If it has nothing else to recommend it, at least it makes men feel uncomfortable!

  6. Steven said

    @Bearded Lady: who feels uncomfortable at the word ‘vagina’? I agree, ‘vajayjay’ just sounds ridiculous, or like some made up crud you’d hear Charlotte uttering in SATC (and then slavishly copied and hailed as very clever by equally vapid ‘fashionistas’ e.g. ‘pookipsy’ or whatever it was in the SATC movie).

    I see a problem satisfying the linguist’s requirements on a word since any term could be given a negative connotation if people use it more commonly in one situation than another.

    Would the resultant back-strain from overly large breasts be covered by these public or private health funds? If so, it’d be better just to include it so you don’t have the ongoing payouts which would surely be larger than the one time reduction fee.

  7. hannahcolman Says:
    December 1, 2008 at 10:54 am
    I hope one day we see a headline like “Man has surgery to elongate his wang”.. :)

  8. Nico said

    Objectionable on a couple of levels. Glad they didn’t arrive however.

    http://www.watoday.com.au/national/storm-in-a-ccup–130000-boobs-lost-at-sea-20081202-6pa5.html

  9. Have to agree with Rosetta, aside from the issues surrounding euphemisms it’s the devaluation of the issue which occurs as a result of ‘boobs’. It transforms the medical story from a serious account to a fluff piece which lacks credibility.

  10. mike azole said

    I second that ….I hope one day we see a headline like “Man has surgery to elongate his wang”.

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