Recently a friend suggested I write a column about the many words we have for various parts of the human body. When you think about it, it’s surprising how many words we have, for instance, for the word “nose.” Other parts too. I admitted to being intrigued at the thought. It sounded like fun and, besides, it would give me a chance to see how much I could sneak past this paper’s draconian board of censors regarding some of the more provocative terms.

The hows and whys for the development of synonyms and euphemisms are many. For synonyms, a major factor is that English takes many of its words from other languages, each offering their own terms for the same thing. Plus, artistic and cultural origins play a significant role, such as writers and popular figures of the day who coin new words that become adopted by the masses.

Opinions on why we develop euphemisms vary. One common explanation is that we find the original or proper terms for something too harsh or culturally unacceptable. “Dang” arose to replace the blasphemous “damn,” for instance. And, well, who doesn’t like a good euphemism once in a while.

According to, “As author Ralph Keyes put it in his 2010 book ‘Euphemania: Our Love Affair with Euphemisms,’ these words ‘represent a flight to comfort … they are comfort words.’”

The human body offers up a rich source for both synonyms and euphemisms, so let’s start at the top with our hair, which can be known as locks, tresses, a shock or even a mane. Hair-dos and hair-don’ts are in their own category: Recall that in the early days of their fame, the Beatles were known for their mop-top haircuts.

Our eyes are the next things in our head — AKA melon, crown, noggin and coconut, if you prefer — that we’ll take a peek at. Though they’re also known as peepers or lookers, my favorite slang term for eyes is bicyclops.


The nose is off and running with monikers such as: horn, honker, beak, proboscis and schnozz, which derives from an anglicized version of the Yiddish term “shnoitsl” (nose) and/or the earlier German word for nose: “schnauze” (as in the schnauzer dog breed). Fun fact: Actor Jimmy Durante (1893-1980) had the nickname “The Schnozzola” for his outstanding facial feature.

While the mouth gets its share of terms – including mug, kisser and yap – probably the most popular is the one coined by a fellow Mainer. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “The earliest known evidence for ‘pie hole’ is from 1983 (in the novel ‘Christine’ by) Stephen King, novelist.”

Some interesting names for our ears include: sound catchers, hearing aids and ear holes. In Japanese, the cat ears that are popular in cosplay and anime are called necomimi.

Arms, if they’re muscular, can go by names like guns or pythons. Mine would charitably be known as wings.

Breasts must easily top the list for the sheer number of creative euphemisms dedicated to them. I’ll begin with “bosom,” which comes from the Old English “bosm,” which has had the meanings “breast,” “womb,” and “surface.” also lists “bust” as well as several terms that seem more appropriate to cows that will go unmentioned.

The Collins Dictionary is appreciated for offering the excepted slang alternatives “boobs” and “jugs,” while letting its readers know that certain other words, which by and large will not be mentioned here, are considered vulgar. There are many, including several food-related terms; two “breastaurant chains (Hooters and Twin Peaks); and perhaps my favorite (which will be mentioned here because it’s hilarious and will possibly get me fired): chesticles.


I’ll waste little time in addressing our midsections, which are generally called things like belly, midriff, abdomen and abs (if you have them). That’s all I can stomach in this particular area.

Now many of you likely saw this coming. As we moved down the body, you wondered humorously, “How is Mr. Word Guy going to handle the words they don’t use in a family newspaper?”

Delicately my friends, delicately.

For the female anatomy, there’s “vagina.” Collins Dictionary tells us that “vulva” is the only acceptable alternative, with all the others considered “taboo slang.” That’s good enough for this family newspaper columnist. (Almost. Can anyone deny the cleverness of “the notorious V.A.G.”?)

As for the male anatomy, the list of euphemisms for “penis” is similarly extensive and similarly won’t be printed here. Though thanks to Collins Dictionary, which is a British publication, we will note that “member,” “organ” and “weenie” are among the acceptable alternatives on that side of the pond.

Bottoms? Again, it is notable the number of synonyms we have developed for this part of the anatomy. And possibly because it is a part that all genders have, the terms don’t seem to be as off-putting or taboo as terms for our other private parts. So, according to Merriam-Webster, booty, hind end, can, keister, rear, backside, butt, derriere, tush, fanny and posterior are just some that join the A word in describing that region.

Moving on, we get to legs. While thin ones are derisively known as chicken legs, nicer ones have earned names such as “gams,” “stems” and “slegs” (sexy legs).

Finally, lowest but not least, there’s the humble foot. You know, the dog with piggies on it. The paw with the tootsies on it. You know, the appendage that my editor is probably going to use to kick my sorry keister to the curb for even attempting this column.

Jim Witherell of Lewiston is a writer and lover of words whose work includes “L.L. Bean: The Man and His Company” and “Ed Muskie: Made in Maine.” He can be reached at

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