Word of the day: kinky

To use one of those understatements that we’re apparently so well known for, the English are not exactly famous for being very direct – and this is particularly true when it comes to expressing our more intimate feelings. The stereotype is that we all suffer a bit from the kind of stiff upper lip that sees Hugh Grant’s face quiver ever so slightly whenever he struggles to voice his love for the object of his desires. “I . . . um . . . well, I . . . um . . . I’m not sure how to tell you this, but I really rather . . . um . . . well, you know . . . do quite like you, as it happens.” You get the idea, I’m sure.

Hugh-grant-mugshot

As with all stereotypes, there’s probably at least a grain of truth to this one, but at the same time, there are few things the English love more than double entendres. A double entendre is a word or phrase that has two meanings, one of which is literal and one of which could be seen as somehow relating to sex! In fact, we have the phrase as the actress said to the bishop which some people use to highlight the potentially ambiguous nature of much everyday discourse.

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For example, you might be struggling with an IKEA flatpack shelving unit and after some messing around, you finally realise what you’d been doing wrong and announce Got it! It just slides into this hole here . . . at which point someone else may well then add As the actress said to the bishop! Obviously, this is based on the very British notion that a seemingly devout man of God might actually secretly be seeking extracurricular fun with an actress (of some kind) and the phrase is seen by many as old-fashioned and non-PC. This may well explain why it was a favourite catchphrase of the awful boss, David Brent, in the original English version of the sitcom The Office.

Ricky-Gervais-The-Muppets-2

Anyway, the point is that while we struggle to articulate our emotions, we regularly make cheap jokes about sex. Why? Well, you’d have to ask a psychotherpist that one. I was reminded of this during one of the evenings out with our students on the Lexical Lab summer school. We were discusing the more eccentric conference presentations we’d witnessed over the years, and one student recalled once seeing a talk at an IATEFL conference where the guy presenting pretended to be a host mother. I immediately replied Kinky! and was surprised that no-one seemed familiar with the word.

The main dictionary definition is ‘involving unusual sexual behaviour’. In other words, it’s the opposite of vanilla, but in English it’s often used in a jokey, friendly way in conversation – and crops up a lot in tabloid newspaper headlines as well. A friend may be explaining the clothes they like to go cycling in and state that Lycra is much better. It’s tighter and it allows you to move faster, which almost invites the response Ooh! Well kinky! while a redtop may well scream in bold letters KINKY KILLER KAUGHT – with the deliberate misspelling! One of London’s greatest pop groups of all time, The Kinks, also played with this, posing with whips and calling their third LP The Kink Kontroversy!

hou_mus_51417_kinks

And, of course, as one student finally realised, there’s a musical currently on in London called . . . Kinky Boots! Taking it’s name from the high-heeled, thigh-length boots some of its main characters wear, it’s been a huge success this year.

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That said, we decided to give it a miss and took the students to see Wicked instead!

For more on our summer school, click here.

  • Do you have a phrase like As the actress said to the bishop in your language? If so, do YOU use it? When?
  • What do you think the main stereotypes of people from your country are?
  • Do you know anyone who struggles to articulate their emotions?
  • Can you think of a book, play, musical or film that’s been a huge success this year?
  • Are phrases like kinky ever used in a jokey way in your language?
  • How do you feel about the tabloid newspapers (the redtops) where you live? Why?
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3 Responses

  1. pupsoid1 says:

    Thanks for the kinky post, Master.) (Double entendre intended.)
    I have one kinky habit of using the phrase “Sexy” every time my students use the right collocation or colligation. I just snap my fingers and here it darts out of my mouth.
    Now, this might seem a joke, but I got myself in a fix a couple of times when teaching teenagers. (I normally deal with adults)
    I do realize I hafta stop that, conquer my inner kinky demon. Especially when it’s getting out of hand as the actress said to the bishop.

  2. Neil McCutcheon says:

    Hideous kinky!

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