BRCA and the Lingo of Breasts

Works of comedy genius, George Carlin


Comedian George Carlin’s classic monologue “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” included a rather benign slang term for breasts.


George went on to say that he thought the word tits did not even really belong on his list because it sounded more like a good name for a snack food than something that would offend TV censors. Cheese Tits, Tater Tits. That sort of thing. When it comes to breasts there are a plethora of euphemisms, nicknames, slang, obscenities and just plain goofy words used to describe female mammary glands. For this writer, words and their meanings, origins and ever-changing shifts in usage are more than a passing fancy.

Where did some of the most common expressions for breasts come from? Tits is an easy one. It is a version of teat, a very old word and we all know what it means. But boobs? Turns out that one is less straightforward. Use of the term boob or booby dates to the sixteenth century and came into the language as a reference to a stupid person or certain large, ungainly birds who were also presumed to be dim-witted. The linguistic community seems unsure of the exact path it took to arrive at the current slang usage of boob/boobies.

While the etymology of all words mammary related may be of intellectual interest to my writer self, what intrigues me as a breast cancer survivor and a carrier of a defective BRCA1 gene, is the way the medical community has a lexicon all their own that surrounds the almighty breast. They HAVE to. In my plastic surgeon’s language, the two rather large, saggy troublemakers that once belonged to me were dispassionately described as “pendulous.” They exhibited “asymmetry.” Surgery would reduce my cancer risk and improve the “cosmesis.” In other words, my lopsided middle-aged bust line could be reworked into a smoking hot rack. Or so I hoped.

Austin Powers dubbed them jubblies and dirty pillows. High beams and honkers arrived courtesy of our car culture. The restaurant empire that is Hooters is in a category by itself. Melons and muffins for the food fans. Ubiquitous milk references. Jugs and knockers anyone? A vast array of secondary terms exists purely to describe the size of female mammary glands. What about the boys and their breasts? The male of the species is shortchanged here in every way. Man boobs are at best, an embarrassment, but not to worry, guys. Plastic surgeons are quite delighted to fix that situation and describe it with a proper term: gynecomastia.


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