The Bald-Headed Hermit and the Artichoke
by A.D. Peterkin
Published by Arsenal Pulp Press
154 pages, 1999
Buy it online
Talk Dirty to Me
Reviewed by David Middleton
We are not always allowed to speak our minds. We often have to submit to euphemisms and subterfuge to say what we are thinking. In polite company one would never say "Hey, I'm off to take a huge crap. I'll be right back," though it would be interesting to see the expressions on the faces of your dinner guests. Instead you would excuse yourself with a polite "Pardon me, whilst I visit the little boys' room," or something equally annoying. Of course, some slang words or colloquialisms are so obscure that no one but a cunning linguist could understand them. Having a discussion with your parents that starts, "Last night I wanted to take Nebuchadnezzar out to grass with this soss brangle in a lupanar, but I forgot to bring my Port Said garter, so I ended up in Uncle Ned all night, faxing the Pope," might go over their heads. But then if you told them in plain language what that really means they'd probably ship you off to a kennel and burn all your Boy Scout badges.
As a society we have come up with all kinds of alternate terms and sayings for those things we have somehow come to consider as rude. Some of these terms are cute and quaint, others civil; a good portion of them are just plain vulgar. Some of them we use because the proper names for things can be considerably long and often in Latin. Others we use because we may be embarrassed to say them outright and so come up with a distracting, and quite often unintelligible euphemism. To put all of these synonyms into a regular dictionary would be an enormous chore, but The Bald-Headed Hermit and the Artichoke has taken on this task and dares to go where no thesaurus has gone before.
The reader of this book will note how pig Latin, rhyme, alliteration, acronym, abbreviation, approximation, foreign language, mythology, metaphor, and secret code have all been recruited imaginatively to name what was though to be unnamable.
With this in mind, The Bald-Headed Hermit and the Artichoke is quite an impressive collection; a compilation of sexual terms found objectionable by mainstream dictionaries and thesauri. It claims to be the first of its kind and one of its goals: to get down all the alternate terms for penis as there can possibly be. And so far that's 1400 of them. It is interesting to see the myriad of surrogate names for the bits we have and the things we do with them, and a lot of what is in The Bald-Headed Hermit and the Artichoke is familiar. Something I found surprising, given the fact that I was raised by extremely polite Scottish people who used to spell the word "fruit" in front of my baby sister.
I'm not sure how useful this book would be, but it is a lot of fun. Who would it be used by and who would reference it? Fascinating though it may be, it also has an element about it that invites voyeurism. I found myself searching through the book for hours just to see if I could find the most amusing or the most disgusting phrase. As well as all the naughty words, the book is occasionally punctuated throughout with humorous, sexual, but for the most part, quite harmless old porn and stock images (my personal favorite: a young boy wields a large baseball bat under the section titled "Masturbation"). More interesting though, is to see the varied ways in which other cultures speak colloquially of sex. There are a few very good, quite funny and informative references to other languages and cultures, both past and present. If there is ever a new volume or edition of this book I would like to see more of these word's histories and derivations. It would be even more helpful if the book was expanded to include a more dictionary-type format.
Let's take for example, inarguably the most over-used and probably most misunderstood dirty, sexually related word in our language. Fuck. Now, I have heard a lot of absurd derivations of this word, the goofiest being that it is the acronym for Fornication Under Carnal Knowledge. According to The Bald-Headed Hermit and the Artichoke it's, "from the Old English term foken, to beat or hit against." This seems to make a bit more sense.
My only objection to the book is that author A.D. Peterkin asks the reader "to submit words not yet invented or included in the first edition." While words that have been overlooked should be added to subsequent editions, the addition of "invented" words into a book of this nature might have scores of men thinking up new and even more grotesque names for when old blind Bob visits the mitten queen. And while this may prove amusing I think I would much rather see words that are in more common usage and not just something made up for the sake of this book. Perhaps this collection of "invented" words could be a different book altogether. | August 1999
David Middleton is the art director of January Magazine and occasionally suffers from an Irish toothache.