Friday, September 10, 2010

Wordplay: Labia

Rotten Aroma

Photograph by Christian Ziegler

     Labia. I have to confess I had never heard the word before Mrs. Jones (or whatever the hell her name is) gave it to me, but she did a pretty good job with 'byzantine' so I thought I'd give it a go. Besides, it was better than her first choice, said choice being 'aromatherapy'. First of all, that really ought to be two words, but with the English language having inherited the Germanic's penchant for compound words it has apparently become one. Oh well. Second, the first and only thing(s) that came to mind was/were flatulence jokes, and you don't want to go down that particular road with me. Ever. I don't care how curious you are, I'm not doing it, so don't even ask.

Thinking about labia

     So . . . there I was with the word 'labia'. As I stated above, I'd never heard the word before, not once in my life. Never. Not ever. And I dare you to prove otherwise. I therefore set my crackerjack staff of research professionals to work on the problem, ordered up a glass of scotch from my personal assistants Amber, Summer & Stormy, and sat back to collect some of my initial impressions. "Labia," I said to myself, trying the word on for size. "'Lay-bee-uh'. Or is it 'lab-ee-uh'?" Lacking an official report form my researchers, I was unsure as to the word's exact pronunciation, so I was relying on my well-honed sense of english-language word pronunciation, gleaned from many happy childhood hours watching Sesame Street, immediately after which Mr. Rogers would show me how to use them in sentences. Words, not my assistants. And I didn't want to preempt my research staff, much like a certain president didn't want to do with his Treasury secretary in his (the president's) first drone-athon 'press conference', and then the very next day Mr. He's-so-smart-it-doesn't-matter-if-he-can't-figure-out-how-to-fill-out-his-tax-return-we-need-him-to-fix-the-economy Secretary of the Treasury held his own press conference to announce that he'd announce his plan to save the economy -- the plan the president just said he'd already designed -- just as soon as he thought of one. Moron. Three hundred million people and he's the best we've got? Just then my scotch arrived, so it wasn't like I was gonna do any of my own research at that point because, let's face it, my liver ain't gonna pickle itself.

     So I was back to thinking about 'labia'. At first blush I thought that since a Canadian gave it to me then maybe it was a Canadian word, so God only knows how to pronounce the damn thing. I mean, they (Canadians) can't pronounce 'about' correctly, and they end just aboot every sentence with the word 'eh', the syntactical equivalent of attaching a caboose to a freight train. Which no serious railroad does anymore. And they have approximately 684,392 words for snow. Canadians, not the railroads. But they're (Canadians) surrounded by the stuff (snow, not railroads; they only have one) thirteen months out of the year, so that's at least somewhat understandable; what do you expect from people who put maple syrup on moose meat, anyway?

     With that in mind, I was thinking that maybe it was pronounced 'lab-ee-uh', which brought to mind a couple of possibilities. First, I though of 'lab', shorthand for 'laboratory'. The 'ia' at the end is often used in Latin to signify a plural, so maybe it was the plural for 'lab'. Then I remembered that in English we just slap an 's' on the end, making the plural 'labs' and the point 'moot'. Then I remembered that the 'ia' is also used in Latin to signify the diminutive, so maybe 'labia' is the diminutive form of 'laboratory', as in a lab full of broads. I knew a priori that 'laboratory' is of definite Latin heritage, and as Mrs. Jones claims to be a broad I was beginning to think that I was on to something. Alas, I then remembered that it's a well known fact that everyone knows that woman just aren't capable of the kind of critical thinking and reasoning necessary for scientific experimentation; the slimy stuff in the petri dish just doesn't care if it matches with your purse. Sure, there is the occasional nerd-type human female, but there's always an exception or two to every rule; just look at male figure skaters. And they're (nerdy chicks) always portrayed on TV and in movies as totally hot chicks with glasses and lab coats, but in real life . . . eh, not so much. So 'laboratory' was pretty much eliminated.

     My second thought was again 'lab', this time as popular shorthand for Labrador retrievers. Thanks to the English 's'-slapping thing, a plural was out right off the bat. And as far as I know, the ancient Romans didn't breed Labrador retrievers, so strike two. Strike three came about a whole second later when I made the connection that, Labrador retrievers being dogs and Mrs. Jones being a woman, it's been my experience that women tend to get a bit cranky when you go in that direction. My third thought was 'Labrador' itself, which if memory serves is located somewhere in Canada. My second scotch arrived around this time, and with my first sip I remembered that Canada only has one Labrador, which would obviate the necessity of pluralizing the word. Furthermore, there being no Latin connection and no obvious way to insult women I therefore put the Canadian connection to bed and turned my attention elsewhere.

Misogynistical contemplations

     Moving south to warmer intellectual climes, with my third glass of scotch -- these assistants of mine are highly trained, top-notch professionals -- I began to look deeper into 'labia', to plumb its depths, if you will. This, of course, led to Latin, the language named after the empire its speakers founded: Rome. The casual thinker may very well have read the word "latin" and immediately thought of 'latino', but said thinker would be completely wrong. 'Latino' means, literally, 'little latin', and while many of them are rather short -- living in Florida I can attest to this -- 'labia' bears little resemblance to any of the more popular 'Latino' words in use today: taco, enchilada, tortilla, Eric Estrada, el gringo es estúpido, &c. Rudolph Valentino, however, was the original 'Latin lover', and he was known worldwide as a well-known Italian, so my path was clear. All roads, as they say, lead to Rome. Except for I-95, apparently: I've driven its entire length and never saw a single sign pointing to an exit for Rome. So 'they' are obviously full of shit.

     My entomological road, however, did lead to Rome and to that long-dead progenitor of many a word, the Latin language. 'Labia' sounded to be of vaguely Latin origin, and my keen analytical mind soon returned to pert near where I'd started. I knew 'laboratory' to be descended from the latin 'laboratorium', which translates literally as "a place of/for labor". And while I'd eliminated 'laboratory' a few scotches ago, the similarity between 'labia' and 'labor' caught my mind's eye. Then Amber caught my eye as she served my next drink, bending over with an endearing giggle to retrieve the napkin she'd dropped on the way in, amazing me with her ability to do so without skipping a beat or using her hands. Making a mental note to consider revising the employee dress code, I then set about exploring further the connection between 'labia' and 'labor'. They sure sounded similar, and as I let them mull in my cranium for a bit things started to fall into place. 'Labor' comes to us straight from Latin, pretty much unmolested. "'Labia' could be the plural of 'labor'," I wondered to myself, but the slap-s rule came to mind, so at this point I just put the labia-as-plural idea to bed; it seemed to be a perpetual dead-end. I then groped around in the cognitive dark for a minute or two with the labia-as-diminutive tack. I'd had five or eight or thirty-two or so drinks at this point -- my assistants are very efficient in this regard -- but the answer just wasn't coming to me. And then all of a sudden the pieces all started to fall into place, if by 'all of a sudden' you mean 'slower'n molasses in February' or 'at a glacial pace'. 'Labia' sounds like 'labor'. 'Labia' sounds Latin-ish. 'Labor' is Latin. 'Labor' is Latin for 'work'. 'Labia' could be the diminutive form of 'labor'. The diminutive form of a word is the 'feminine' form. And a 'woman' gave me 'labia' as a topic. It was so obvious, I shouted out "Eureka!", which is German for 'duh'.

     Women's work! Cooking, cleaning, bearing children, raising children, breast feeding children, serving drinks, figure skating, and certain things a wife does for her husband on special occasions or every Wednesday, depending on her level of enthusiasm; a whole flood of tasks specially suited for the fairer sex came to mind. Sure, utter the phrase 'women's work' and they'll likely huff, and puff, and stomp their feet, and refuse to tell you what's for dinner, but that's only because they think they do all the hard work in life. Any fool can see, however, that women's work is easy work. If cooking is so hard, then why are all the best chefs in the world men? Women moan and complain about cleaning, yet not-a-one of 'em ever thought to invent the vacuum cleaner or Windex, much less the spray bottle. Put men in charge of child-rearing and those ungrateful little brats would be put to work, not lolly-gagging around the house all day breaking your stuff. It was once said of Ginger Rogers that she did everything Fred Astaire did backwards and in high heels, yet if she'd had any sense at all she would've walked forwards like everybody else and worn sensible shoes. Bearing children, however, is the biggest scam of all. In a bit of groundbreaking, Pulitzer-prize-worthy reporting last year, I revealed that many women are taking the time to have their hair and nails done while in labor. For nine months you can't go get your own pickles and ice cream but you can find the time for a mani-pedi? And don't even try to tell me that labor pains are so bad that you need a powerful anesthetic injected straight into your spinal column right after your bikini waxing; I'm just not buyin' it.

     "Finally!", I thought to myself, I had deduced the meaning of the word 'labia'. At long last I had touched the soul of 'labia'. At great length I had penetrated the shroud of mystery surrounding 'labia'. I had put my finger on its very quintessence. I'd thrust deep into the heart of the matter and, feeling triumphant in my conquest I began to think about what to write when, lo and behold , Summer appeared with a serving tray. On the tray I was delighted to find a) another bottle of scotch, and b) the much-anticipated research report, ready for my annotations and/or corrections before final publication. Leaning back in my chair, I took the report in hand and perused my staff's findings, positively giddy with anticipation to compare their findings with my own.

And what do mine eyes behold?

     Holy hell, Batman! I was horrified, to say the least. After all that lovely drinking thinking I'd done on the subject, after all that intricate reasoning and deduction . . . I could hardly believe my eyes. Here I was in possession of a three-inch thick stack of paper printed with things I just can't repeat in a family-friendly publication such as this. However, my research staff is composed entirely of interns, so as college students they were probably just drunk and immature enough think they could pull a fast one over on the old bird and get a chuckle or two out of the whole affair. I therefore set about a) firing the snot-nosed bastards, b) shredding the hideous piece of filth they'd produced, and c) doing my own damn research. What I found on Google wasn't any better. In fact, I had to hide my virgin eyes in shame. When I recovered from my initial shock I tried visiting some of the links and found little which bears repeating. Labia majora, labia minora, distortion, elongation, reduction surgery, some young woman named Britney Spears, &c.; it was all there, out in the open for anyone with a computer to see. Why are there no laws to protect me from this?

     After pounding back a double scotch I decided to check with old Mr. Webster and see what he had to say about the matter. I soon found out that one of my initial impressions had been correct: 'Labia' is the plural form of 'labium'. Two further clicks informed me that the labia majora & minora are the folds of the vulva bounding the vestibule, which means I'll never be able to enter a vestibule again. At least not without some trepidation, anyway. And then that damn video came to mind. You know the one I'm talking about, that godawful "Miracle of Life" birthing video. It's just horrendous, all the yelling and screaming and damning and cursing, and then out pops . . . this thing, all covered in goo . . . It's about the worst thing you can do to a kid, and the real miracle is that anyone can watch it and ever again be interested in engaging in sex. Then it occurred to me that, while not directly related, 'labia' and 'labor' are tangentially connected, which gives whole new meanings to the following phrases:

  • labia force
  • labia camp
  • labia pains
  • Labia Day
  • labia-intensive
  • labia union
  • labia of love
  • Labia omnia vincit (Labia conquer all things)
My apologies to anyone reading this who does now or has ever lived in the Great State of Oklahoma, but y'all need to adopt a new state motto. Fast. That being said, I'm way the hell over the 250 word limit specified for Wordplay, and at any rate it's time for my daily massage. Where's Stormy?

     In conclusion, I would like to note that if 'labia' was a Canadian's first choice of word, Canada must be one big, frozen island full of perverts.

     Welcome to Wordplay. With apologies to whomever dreamed this up, I've renamed the game and modified the rules just a bit. The official rules are as follows:
  1. Choose a one-word topic about which to write (hereafter referred to as a challenge), and send it to me in a PM titled 'Wordplay'.
  2. Nonsensical challenges are both allowed and encouraged.
  3. Upon my acceptance of your challenge I will post a challenge of my own.
  4. By posting a challenge you are hereby agreeing to accept the recipient's challenge.
  5. Short pieces are encouraged, i.e. at or about 250 words, but not required.
  6. Participants have one calendar week to post their compositions; challenged first, challenger second.
  7. The title must be in the following format: Wordplay: [word]
  8. The official rules must be included at the end of your composition.
  9. This is not a tag.
  10. Taggers will, when identified, be hanged summarily.
For those interested in challenging me, I'm including the following personal addenda:
  1. I will not accept 'aromatherapy'; we've already discussed this.
  2. I will not accept 'misogyny' because, frankly, I think I've pretty much covered that.
  3. This post serves as fair warning as to what you can expect in challenging me.
Game on!