The “Ejaculate” Conundrum

Or, This is probably one of those “darlings” writing instruction books tell you to murder, isn’t it?

The verb “ejaculate” as “exclaim” presents a problem for me as a romance writer. On the one hand: people say a lot of things suddenly and with great emotion, and “exclaim” and “cry” and “burst out” can only cover so many of them.  On the other hand, “ejaculate” as a word to take the place of any of them is not just a once-per-novel word but more a once-every-five-novels kind of word, so it wouldn’t really be that helpful in relieving the tedium.

It is a word I always hesitate to use because of its other meaning–really the sub-meaning–which has become the overwhelmingly singular use of the verb in the parlance of our times.  I mean, of course, the ejaculation of semen sub-meaning of OED’s definition 2 “to eject fluids, etc., from the body.”  They list examples about the heart ejaculating blood and spiders ejaculating threads, so the shift to making the verb the exclusive purview of male sexual release really has been a recent development, linguistically speaking.  

The spoken meaning is all the way down at definition 4. 

In the general population I am not sure the verb is commonly understood as anything but the one thing.  However, I am not writing for the general population; I am writing for readers of romance novels. And most romance fans have read at least a book or two by Georgette Heyer, who was inordinately fond of the verb–in some cases she has heroes ejaculating every other page, and not in the fun way–so the question is would my audience think twice about which meaning I intended, and the answer would be “no.”


Let us not kid ourselves. Just because the readers would understand my meaning doesn’t mean for a second that they would not still associate the word with its other meaning.  Writers very often use words that have a commonly understood second meaning intentionally, provocatively.  I believe the term is double entendre? Or, if not that direct (as double entendre may be implying too much of a subtext for this connotation) then still a wee bit meta. I mean, I know I’m writing a romance novel, with sex.  My readers would know that is what they were reading. So even if the verb is appropriate to the situation and the time period in which I’m writing–as in, the hero could have said “ejaculate” in a roomful of ladies and not a one of them would have thought to blush or giggle over it–I cannot completely dismiss the awareness of myself as a modern author writing for a modern audience and all the sensibilities we all share and that we know we share.

So I put it to you to tell me whether this is a line that can stand or if it really ought to take one of the alternatives:
She was lucky her brother had not taken a sip yet, else he might have spat it all over the table, and her, when he ejaculated in disbelief, “What?”



Filed under Reflections on Romance, Writing

2 responses to “The “Ejaculate” Conundrum

  1. I would only use it for a giggle – never in a serious fashion.

    • That’s the consensus opinion I’m getting from my friends/beta reading circle, and it’s what my instinct is, as well. I will confess the main reason I thought to apply it here was “spitting on the table and her” bit bc that makes such a luscious dirty joke. but it’s not really apropos to the scene AND it’s her brother so it’s definitely too dirty.

      so…I guess what I’m saying is, somebody call the po-po because my darling just got murdered! lol

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