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An Aside on Blow
ENGLISH LANGUAGE is a distributive language, one that conveys meaning partly
through the distribution of discrete words within a sentence, as distinguished
from synthetic languages, such as Latin, in which the forms of the words
themselves contribute more to the grammatical component of meaning
does their placement within a sentence. Because English is also a
singularly acquisitive language, its lexical corpus contains many words
borrowed from other languages, including the synthetic ones (borrowed in
the way that a neighbor “borrows” your hedge clippers and returns them,
if ever, only years later, after they have been nicked, battered, bent,
and otherwise neighborized almost beyond recognition). As a result,
modern English has many pairs of nearly synonymous words with one member
that is homegrown or, to use a borrowed word, native, and the other borrowed
from a synthetic language.
That odd little man actually inflated a dog. I tell you he blew it up, right before my very eyes!We would not say “blew up it,” because we recognize that up is a part of the verb, the equivalent of a suffix, not a preposition; up has no object of its own, but blew up does have an object, it. The object stands in the sentence like a tree in a path, but since the root and particle are separable, they move to either side and pass it by.
So we arrive at fellatio. The Anglo-Saxon equivalent is blow job. The corresponding verbs are fellate and blow, the former a back-formation from fellatio and the latter the surviving base word of a phrasal verb, blow off, soldiering on without its particle. Neither appeared in print until relatively recently. Hugh Rawson, in Wicked Words: A Treasury of Curses, Insults, Put-Downs, and Other Formerly Unprintable Terms from Anglo-Saxon Times to the Present, cites as the earliest reference to their use a 1939 glossary of prostitutes’ and criminals’ argots in which the phrasal verb blow (someone) off is defined as “to hold intercourse through the mouth.” It seems reasonable to assume that blow in this sense was established in the vernacular long before it appeared in print, and that blow job came into oral use soon after blow did, but Rawson found no citation for it until the 1975 Dictionary of American Slang—with one exception.
The exception was an entry in the 1953 Thesaurus of American Slang. There blow job was defined as “jet plane,” a definition illustrated by a passage from the July 26, 1945, issue of the San Francisco Examiner: “A P-59 jet-propelled Airacomet, affectionately called the ‘blow job’ by flyers, will make several flights . . . in 1946.”
Dawson characterizes this definition as “then-current, now-archaic. ” Oh, sure. I would be willing to bet that it was a joke. Picture this: One night, we come upon a flock of flyers sitting in a bar getting confidential over a few beers, trying to find the words to tell one another how they feel when they open the throttle on that P-59, and one of them, franker or drunker than the others, says something like, “I can’t describe it, but I swear it’s as good as a blow job.” The rest of them crack up, laughing like high school boys in a locker room, over a joke that they can’t share with anyone who hasn’t experienced both a blow job and the thrust of a jet at full throttle. In time, the usage spreads among those in the know. When the flyers use their private expression in the presence of an inquiring reporter from the Examiner and see that he doesn’t get it, that he jots it down, all earnestness and incomprehension, they snort and snicker (and the reporter, hearing them snort and snicker, scribbles “affectionately” on his pad), and a day or two later, when they see blow job appear in print, they fall against one another, roaring with the laughter that we use for something a little naughty.
I sympathize with the naive reporter from the Examiner, because when I first heard blow used in its sexual sense my own inexperience led me to misinterpret it. I recall hearing, in a whispered exchange in a locker room, “she blew me.” Something in the attitude of the whisperers, some snickering or a glance around to see if anyone was listening, was enough to make me realize that the reference was to a sex act, and some contextual clue that I no longer remember made me understand that it was oral-genital sex, but how it was performed I did not know. In my ignorance I came to imagine that “she blew me,” was the equivalent of “she blew me up.” I supposed that when, someday, I got blown, a girl would put my penis to her mouth like the neck of a balloon, and inflate it. My penis was, I well knew, an erectile organ; apparently, on the evidence of this overheard remark, it was inflatable, too, though mine had never yet been blown up. Perhaps, when that girl, whoever she might turn out to be, had inflated it as far as she dared, she would release it, and the air—her breath—would be expelled in a great exhalation, a rushing sough of pleasure, like the hot gas blown out the back of a P-59.
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Copyright © 2001 by Eric Kraft
Inflating a Dog is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, dialogues, settings, and businesses portrayed in it are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.
Picador USA will publish Inflating a Dog in the summer of 2002.
For information about publication rights outside the U. S. A., audio rights, serial rights, screen rights, and so on, e-mail Kraft’s indefatigable agent, Alec “Nick” Rafter.
The illustration at the top of the page is an adaptation of an illustration by Stewart Rouse that first appeared on the cover of the August 1931 issue of Modern Mechanics and Inventions. The boy at the controls of the aerocycle doesn’t particularly resemble Peter Leroy—except, perhaps, for the smile.