THE FIRST ENCOUNTER.

Andrei Bely was famous as a poet as well as a novelist, but while I love his novel Petersburg and am reading his earlier The Silver Dove (set aside to read Orfografiya, which I finally finished Saturday night), I’ve read very little of his poetry. His supreme achievement as a poet is generally considered to be his long poem of 1921, Pervoe svidanie, available in a very nice bilingual edition with copious notes called The First Encounter, translated and introduced by Gerald Janeček and with notes and comments by Nina Berberova (who knew Bely personally). I recently saw a copy at a bookstore for around $14 (which is what it’s available for online), but reluctantly decided I couldn’t afford it. Then I saw on Amazon Marketplace that Wallace Books (well, the Amazon seller wallacebooks—I don’t know where they are or if they have a website) had it for three dollars! I was excited, I ordered it, and today I got it, in beautiful condition. God bless the internet.
And now for something completely different. The Style section of Sunday’s NY Times had an article by Stephanie Rosenbloom on the word vajayjay:

It began on Feb. 12, 2006, when viewers of the ABC series “Grey’s Anatomy” heard the character Miranda Bailey, a pregnant doctor who had gone into labor, admonish a male intern, “Stop looking at my vajayjay.”
The line sprang from an executive producer’s need to mollify standards and practices executives who wanted the script to include fewer mentions of the word vagina.
The scene, however, had the unintended effect of catapulting vajayjay (also written va-jay-jay) into mainstream speech…
What this really demonstrates, say some linguists, is that there was a vacuum in popular discourse, 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.
“There was a need for a pet name,” said Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist at the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley, and the chairman of the usage panel for the American Heritage Dictionary, “a name that women can use in a familiar way among themselves.”

I had been vaguely aware of the word, and was glad to get the backstory on how it achieved its current prominence. I suspect, however, that it will not catch on beyond the United States; something about it screams “cutesy Americanism.”

Comments

  1. My sister-in-law uses “noo-noo”.

  2. A lot of people apparently use “hoo-ha,” which confused me a lot when I first heard it – when I was growing up, “hoo-ha” was a synonym for “kerfuffle,” more or less.

  3. Dan Blum makes me think of brou-hah-hah.
    Anyway, Least I Could Do (not entirely worksafe in subject) introduced “vagoo” a good while back with that exact same rationalisation.

  4. I found a site http://vajayjay.com/ that says their line of apparel was coming in 2005 and gives a copyright date of 2003 by x-lr8d media. That in turn links to a blog/home page of someone called Shane Hunt. I’m too busy to track down Shane, and someone ought to tell Stephanie that Google is her friend.

  5. I’ve often thought that reviving “quim” might fill this particular lacuna.

  6. David Harmon says:

    Well, the “proper” term for the external part of female genitalia is the “vulva”. “Vagina” refers to the canal itself, that is, the normally-hidden stretch between labia minora and cervix.
    Bayard: IIRC, “quim” is alive and well in Britsh English….

  7. The earliest use so far found of vajayjay is from 2002. A reader turned me on to MC Paul Barman (see the cites below the ad) who used it in a song called “MTV Get Off the Air, Part 2 (featuring Princess Superstar)” on an album called “It’s Very Stimulating.” I asked Ms. Rosenbloom about it and she said Barman had contacted her about it after the article ran, and said that a) he spelled the word va-j-j and b) he said he heard it from a college friend whose family used the word.

  8. Thanks! That makes sense—it has the ring of a cute family term.

Speak Your Mind

*