This post originally appeared on VICE Scandinavia
British author and psychologist Charles Fernyhough says that humans would probably not able to think if we didn't have words to illustrate our thoughts. Which must mean that I've been masturbating in some kind of clinical delirium, because as far as I know there isn't really a word for female masturbation – is there?
Not in the English language but in Swedish [where else?] there soon will be a word to describe what happens when a woman inserts her own fingers in her own vagina. In an attempt to remove potential taboos, RFSU (the Swedish Association for Sexuality Education) this month held a competition and a referendum looking for a new, non-awkward word for female masturbation. The winning word was "klittra" – a mix of the words "klitoris" [clitoris] and "glittra" [glance/glitter].
Will "klittra" make it easier for Swedish girls to talk about the stuff we do with our vaginas? And can anyone come up with a new word for something, just like that? Slightly confused, I called up the linguistic departments of various universities. At Lund University, I got in touch with a linguist who wanted to remain anonymous. Over the phone she explained things to me from a social perspective: "It's the Swedish Language Institute that decides if a word should be listed in the Swedish Academy's Dictionary. Whether it gets there depends on how often the word appears in newspaper articles and modern literature. Also, the Language Institute makes a 'new words list' every year. But most of those words disappear pretty quickly." She also said that it takes many years for a word such as "klittra" to get to the top because it's a "subcultural word and phenomenon." One example of a word that went through a long journey before it was generally accepted is tjej [the modern Swedish word for girl], which was around for 150 years before it was written in dictionaries. :/
Eager to learn more, I called up Ljuba Veselinova, who is an Associate Professor at the Department of Linguistics at Stockholm University.
VICE: Hi Ljuba! Is it OK to make up new words just like that?
Ljuba Veselinova: Yes, anyone can make up new words. I make up new words all the time! But no one can ever know if they will survive or not.
Do you have any tips on how we can make "klittra" survive in the word-jungle if RFSU establishes it at Congress next summer?
It often comes down to someone famous using a word for it to have a big impact and circulate. For example, if Michael Jackson had come up with a new word, chances are that it would be used by us now. But if you really want to know how well a world will be able to survive, the best thing you can do is to make a poll.
Alright. Do you think "klittra" can become the new hen?
Maybe. To give things names in this way is a contemporary tradition that didn't exist before.
"Klittra" makes me think of "clitoris". As if female masturbation was only about stimulating the clitoris. I mean, masturbation can be so much more. Don't you think it's problematic to choose a word that potentially forms a specific idea of what masturbation is?
Personally, it makes me think about "glittra" [glitter]. But it's obviously a problem if the word becomes taboo. Words around sex and gender are always pretty sensitive.
Does "klittra" work from a grammatical point of view?
Definitely, it's a verb. "Klittra" matches the general construction of the Swedish language, and grammatically it's absolutely fine.
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