Euphemistically Speaking

This evening, while walking home I was writing a blog post in my head (I do this a lot–most of them never make it to the computer because I don’t have the time to type them up) (that is probably weird, perhaps I shouldn’t have admitted to that) and I got to the point where the following phrase would be perfect:

“But I don’t possess the balls to go up to some famous, important person….”

At this point, that blog post stopped and turned into this blog post (maybe I’ll write that post some other day) because I started trying to come up with a way to say the above without using the word “balls.” It is the perfect word for that phrase except for one small problem.

I don’t have balls.

(Unless, of course, you count balls of yarn of which I have many, some of which are quite large and all of which are pretty hairy.)

(I can’t wait to see the trackbacks I get from this post.)

Now, I realize that a person is speaking figuratively when they say that they don’t have the balls for X thing. And, there’s no reason I can’t use the same phrase figuratively. Except that it feels wrong somehow. It doesn’t ring true. It doesn’t have the same bite to it as it would if a man were saying it. And there’s no good female equivalent. “Ovaries” might be the the biological equivalent, but it just doesn’t work as well. It’s too clinical. Too nerdy. It has too many syllables. Other words for female genitalia are no better (and besides which, it makes me uncomfortable to use the more vulgar ones).

(At this point, Zuska would probably say something very clever and profound about gender and society and how the slang for testicles is associated with courage, but that slang for female genitalia is associated with dirtiness and foulness and how this provides insight into how society views men and women and their purposes and worth and so on, but I don’t really feel like I can do that justice, so I’m just going to continue on with my search for the perfect euphemism.)

So, what are the alternatives?

Like I said, “ovaries” just doesn’t have the same zing to it, though I often use it when I’m talking to other women. I’m fond of the word “chutzpah” (Yiddish words are very satisfying to say; I think it has something to do with the way they often start in the back of the throat and get spat out). Yet, it doesn’t have the same impact as “balls” which has a certain amount of vulgarity associated with it, leaving you with the impression that the speaker has a certain amount of chutzpah just for using the word. Other words that are commonly used in that particular phrase are simply other euphemisms for testicles (kahunas for instance).

“Nerve,” “daring,” “arrogance,” are all boring and unsatisfying.

I want something clever, something with pizazz, something with impact factor. Something that gives people the same feeling as “balls” but not so, you know, masculine.

Does such a word even exist?


21 thoughts on “Euphemistically Speaking

  1. I’ve used the phrase “I don’t have the balls to…” and cringed at the sound of it. I don’t think a female equivalent exists. Guess women will just have to invent a new female-oriented word for it. “Boobs” doesn’t quite do it, though…. 🙂

  2. “stones” is similar yet not so obviously masculine. “guts” is what I’d probably use. Why not just make something up. I know, ‘I don’t have the mangoes for it’, there you go!

  3. In Serbian language the word “eggs” [jaja] is used for both ovaries and testicles. And there is the same phrase – “That really takes some eggs to do”, with the sexual identity of eggs being left to the reader.

  4. Another grad student once said to me ‘That took balls. Um… no, you don’t have balls. That took OVES.”

    Not sure if it’s an improvement but it was still funny.

    I like ‘mangoes’ as a substitution.

  5. I third mangoes.

    I have been known to use the word “balls” in similar situations.

    Just like how I refer to my breasts as “the girls”, as in “sometimes the girls just need a day out” when explaining why I am wearing a low cut shirt.

    There is a guy in neighboring department who likes to show where the fallopian tubes are by pointing to himself.

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  7. Hah! I think you did just fine…more pithy, less wordy than I probably would have done. Great post!

    Hey, I like “mangoes” too! Let’s all start using it and start a trend!

  8. I used to work in an American country in a French-speaking country. We worked in English and chatted in French. At one point I suggested that a (male) manager should have done something, and said I would have done it in his place. A French-speaking colleague opened his mouth, shut it again with an odd look, and finally said “Parce que t’as plus couilles — I would have said it in English, but it doesn’t sound right about a woman.” That’s “Because you have more balls” and the French term is exactly as masculine as the English, possibly more so — I know of no meaning for it other than “testicles”. Dunno why it worked better for him in French.

  9. I’ve always like the gender neutral “That takes a lot of sand” myself.

  10. “Eggsy” is the word you’re looking for. As in, “I’m just not eggsy enough to do that…”

  11. Eggs, definitely. Better yet, huevas. Everything sounds more urgent when you say it in Spanish. ‘Huevos’ is slang for balls anyway, and you can have the additional satisfaction of converting a masculine noun into a feminine one.

  12. OK, my two cents for what it is worth.

    A lot of words have histories linked to meanings which one might want to avoid, but most words eventually separate from these roots and the original linkage becomes irrelevant. I think that process can be hastened, if a community of speakers wants it to. Women can “have balls” if they want to.

    I think mangos and sand are OK but they bring to the utterance a statement about other things. If one is saying something, it may not always be desirable to toss in a political interjection which may be way off the point. This is almost always the case with new words or uses that are meant to mess with gender conceptions. For the first several years of “Ms” (the word, not the magazine) no one could use the term without it being a political statement. That is a fine political statement to make, but maybe one is just trying to say something and does not want the distraction.

    Which brings me to an approach I’d like to suggest: Balls are balls and eggs are eggs. One can be ballsy and one can be eggsy (but not eggy, I think).

    “Biological sex” is a different issue. A male or a female can be ballsy or eggsy, but they are not the same thing.

    For instance, to me “ballsy” means likely to go ahead with something that requires a certain amount of courage or strength of will, but where the likelihood of success is really unknown or not important, and the cost of failure may well be greater than the cost of inaction. Eggsy might mean willfully going ahead with something that requires a certain amount of courage or strength of will, but where the cost of inaction is certain to be greater than the cost of failure. Or at least, that is my take on the gendered nuance in a Western English-speaking context.

  13. I’d agree with Greg. I use the term “have balls” irrespective of the gender. I also say (to myself) “I need a kick in the nuts for overlooking such a simple thing in my code.”

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