billieI do not, do not, understand the unfortunate predisposition of the American public to refer slangily to the mammary glands of the female as “boobs.”

boobadSo I looked up the word “boob” in a few online dictionaries just now. Here is a sampling of the definitions:

  • stupid or foolish person
  • dolt
  • boor
  • Philistine
  • simpleton.

Now, I ask you: Are these appropriate synonyms for the life-giving appendages that play such a rich role in the obstetric and gynecologic phases of our bodies?

What started me thinking about this was a posting I received not long ago – a plea for support of breast cancer prevention (right on!) – that concluded with a so-called joke about a grandmother who hoped her 3-year-old granddaughter’s “boobs” [sic] would not be vulnerable to the dread disease when eventually she developed them. (The boobs, that is.) Maybe it was the future-oriented nature of the reference, I don’t know. But something about that usage motivated me to reply to all the recipients – and there were quite a few – that I hoped by the time the granddaughter developed breasts, they would be referred to more respectfully than that.

Interestingly, of about 35 recipients, I received only one reply. The original forwarder responded, somewhat grudgingly, I felt: “I know what you mean. I hate the term “tits.”

That’s not the point, though. Not to me. At least “tits” has a biological etymology, as a variant of the zoological term “teats” for female mammals.

Try as I might, I’ve failed to discover how the reference to breasts as boobs came about. Does anybody out there know? Does anybody out there feel the way I do about it?

Our generation has an opportunity to promote awareness about this disconnect in the service of future generations. It’s not too late. My four-year-old grandson Julian, who lives in an all-male household with the exception of his mother, asked her nonchalantly one day, “Hey, where did you get those things?”

He doesn’t know yet that those things are referred to by actual grownups as dolts, boors and simpletons. My daughter’s answer was, “God.”

A novelist and an adjunct faculty member of Central Georgia Tech’s English department, Billie Brown is also a working journalist, publicist and marketing executive with four decades of experience in both the for-profit and non-profit sectors, including stints as marketing manager for the Coca-Cola Company  and director of public relations for the Goizueta Business School of Emory University.fShe was recently appointed  senior research fellow for Ellis Strategy Group, which counsels companies around the globe on strategy, operations management and finance.

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  • Arunava August 5, 2010 at 2:33 am

    I tend to agree with Billie Brown when she expresses her anguish at female breasts being referred to as “Boobs”, which means a stupid person or boor. It is indeed stupid that the life giving organ that nourished all of us in our childhood should be called that way. I think it has more to do with the american habit of using slang for everything and anything on earth.

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  • Dawn April 23, 2010 at 6:44 am

    I love that we can play with words about ourselves. When you take yourself too seriously, you create space for shame and self-consciousness. Worry should be reserved for something relevant. Revel in the creativity of our kind!

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  • Jennifer June 30, 2009 at 8:50 am

    While it is unfortunate that modern writers, such as those in the advertisement shown and the author herself, connect the multiple meanings of “boob,” the two meanings have completely separate etymologies. They are homonyms, with the same spelling and pronunciation, but are different words with different meanings.

    L. balbus “stammering” –> Sp. “Bobo” stupid bird or person –> Modern English 1909 “Boob” as stupid person

    L. puppa “little girl” –> OF pope “breasts” –> 17th C English “bubbies” –> Modern English c. 1929 “boobies” or “boobs” as breasts

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  • Dr Patricia Allen June 30, 2009 at 8:41 am

    Bobbie, we are so glad that you are now one of our contributors. You have a wonderful way of pointing out a word that is no longer acceptable as a euphamism for breasts.

    We at http://www.womensvoicesforchange.org spend much of our time struggling with the meaning of a word and how it has come to define us. We began with the word, menopause, but essays like this move us forward. We can allow others to define us with unaceeptable words, or to use words in a way that has an out-dated and demeaning purpose, or we can reinvent those words and their meaning.

    When I was growing up the term “Ta Tas” was used for breast no memorable reason and I find that when I am not in a medical situation that I often refer to breasts out of nostalgia as Ta Tas.

    I like the sound of Ta Tas though. It reminds me of breasts on parade Fourth of July drug majorettes perhaps. Out front and proud. Ta Da!

    Don’t get me started on the words used for vulva.

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