What Do I Call These Things?

I tend to say “boobs” a lot. I mean, not ALL THE TIME, jeez. I’m not parading around the office blathering on about boobs and underwires and bra manufacturers, or anything. But when the topic does come up, my word of choice, especially with my peers, is boobs. “Breasts” can feel clinical or medical, even though it’s technically appropriate. I know we’re all supposed to be mature about our anatomy, and say “penis” and “vagina” and “breast” and “testicle” without getting all coy and giggly (remember when we all said va-jay-jay, and that led to idiotic words like “vajazzling”? Kill me now). I do say “breast” a lot, especially when it comes to talking about some of the more technical aspects of fit, but I kind of like “boobs”.

“Boobs” is a fairly innocuous word, like a goofy friend, and I usually hear it in cheerful, friendly situations. “Tits” and “cans” are really off-putting to me, as I associate them with situations where I’ve been ogled, commented on inappropriately, or catcalled, but I remember when I first discovered Bravissimo, and along with adorable, smiley models, the website’s copy talked cheerfully and kindly about our “boobs”. Beautiful bras for big-boobed girls! It was sweet, enthusiastic, and didn’t have any sort of weird, sexualizing undercurrent that I’d associated with “big-boobed” lingerie in the past. It also came with really awesome English accents.

I realized this month when I started fitting women that I used “boobs” not only on the blog, but also in conversation.

Everyone approaches bra fittings differently. For some women it’s fun and interesting, but for others there’s a lot of defensiveness, shame, self-consciousness, and uncertainty that goes along with asking someone to help you with your bras. I mean, we’re adults, right? How can we be so dumb as not to know how to wear a basic item of clothing? Alternately, we may feel angry or defeated: We’re [x] years old, goddammit, and bras are the worst! They’re uncomfortable, and they’re not made for our shapes! Why should we expect this shopping trip/fitting experience to be any better? Also, Victoria’s Secret said we were [x] size, so if you don’t make that size work, we’re leaving!

With all of these emotions coming into play, I think it’s particularly important that I use language deliberately and sensitively. We’re dealing with really personal shit, here, and I want to do my best to make sure that any volunteer or customer who’s getting fitted feels comfortable and at ease. Therefore, I ask you: how do you feel about the word “boobs”?

For example, I never really liked calling breasts “The Girls”. I used the phrase jokingly for a while, largely because it’s what Stacy and Clinton said on “What Not to Wear”, and I adore Stacy and Clinton, but the more I’ve thought about it, the more it makes me feel uncomfortable. I remember feeling utterly divorced from my breasts when they first started growing. I know it’s not everyone’s experience, but I felt so powerless when my body started changing. My ideal of beauty was the long, sylph-like ballerina’s beauty, and these . . . THINGS just showed up and kept growing and people felt the need to comment on them and look at them and evaluate them and I hadn’t wanted them in the first place and UGH. Saying “The Girls”, to me, feels like continuing to separate myself from my breasts. There’s my body, and then there are “the girls,” with a mind of their own, ruining my life and my shopping. It took me a very long time to accept that my breasts were a part of me, and even more time to accept that they don’t define me (I still struggle with that one). So they’re not “the girls”, to me. They’re my boobs.

I made a list of some common slang names for “breasts”, and I gotta say, there aren’t many I like:

Titties (are you a ten-year-old boy? No? Then don’t say “titties”, come on.)
Dugs (ughh, ick)
The Girls
Chesticles (absolutely not. No. I refuse.)
Jugs (ewww, no, bleah)

It’s interesting looking at the full list. Lots of food parallels, as well as, weirdly, machinery and mechanical allusions. Mostly, for me, this list is a list of words that majorly, seriously rub me the wrong way. God, if someone asked me about my “cans”, I swear I would punch them in the face.

Seeing how strongly I feel about most other-words-for-breasts, I wanted to open it up to you: what nicknames would make you feel uncomfortable during a bra fitting? How do you feel about the word “boobs”? Does it bother you when I say it on Sweet Nothings, and is there a word or phrase you’d prefer I use? Let me know!

31 Comments on What Do I Call These Things?

  1. Samantha
    April 8, 2013 at 9:20 am (10 years ago)

    To me, “breasts” is the professional option – it’s the neutral, aloof term. But it also feels awkward because it has an air of forced propriety from most people. A sort of “I don’t want to make this person feel strange by saying ‘boob’ so I’ll go with ‘breast’ instead because it is proper and professional” thing, and if it doesn’t have that, it doesn’t feel like the speaker is really interested enough (I don’t know how that works in my head). Of course, it can be said with a tone that doesn’t feel awkward or disinterested, as with a lot of words, but to me it feels rather stuffy. I mean, only a little stuffy. Like, say, turducken. Still, it may be the better word to use with some elderly people, whether we like it or not.

    “Boobs” seems like a middle-ground, in my mind. It feels more innocent than a “rack” (and since my father was an enthusiastic game hunter in his younger days, that has a very disturbing association for me) or “ChaChas” or “hooters” because in my mind “boobs” is what you hear first, before you learn about (or, cheese’n’rice, CREATE) the unsavory nicknames. Plus, say the word “boob” and pretty much everyone knows what you mean.

    “The Girls” in particular bothers me as well, for the same reason it bothers you. (that’s what my mother occasionally called mine, but only mine because “I’m the only one that has boobs large enough to warrant it.” Because APPARENTLY they’re so big they could be their own living, sentient beings. Which circles back to your reason. And I wear a 34GG. I’d like to think that’s very much in the middle of the “full bust” scale. I did ask her to refrain from using it and she did. She didn’t mean any harm.)

    For the other words, I’ve actually heard very few of the ones on this list – and I learned new ones from it. And now I have yet more words to be uncomfortable with. THANKS, SWEETS. But it is an interesting topic to think about, especially since I’ve heard some of the less desireable terms more from women than men (which honestly just makes me go “wut?”).

    For the blog, other names and phrases would feel forced and odd. You’ve always used the word “boobs”! It’d be hard to adjust, maybe for you but especially for me (I’m the important one, obvs.) because that’s what I’m used to you using. The only time “boobs” has been hurtful to me was because of the rest of the sentence it was in, and I think as long as the rest of your wording is kind and nonjudgmental, it’ll mostly go unnoticed.

    (I did not think my first comment on your blog would be so LONG. Agh!)

    • Sweets
      April 8, 2013 at 9:31 am (10 years ago)

      I love your long comment! Thank you! I’m very, very sorry that I have added some more horrible words to your lexicon. My bad. That’s interesting about hearing more negative words-for-breasts from women than men. It made me think: I’ve heard a lot of them from women when they’re being self-deprecating or self-critical, or when they’re talking about another woman behind her back (boooo, ladies), but fortunately no woman has ever used them to my face. Seems like we internalize a lot of negative thoughts about our boobs, unfortunately 🙁

      • Samantha
        April 8, 2013 at 9:48 am (10 years ago)

        Ah, yay! Thank you! You’re welcome! Gratitude!
        Eh, the words would’ve been added at some point anyway, I’d rather learn them from you than some creep. Preparation. c:
        I’ve noticed that it’s usually in reference to another woman, or in a disturbingly-nonchalant (even triumphant) comment about themselves. I’ve never heard a woman use it for herself with negative intent, which confuses me even more! Why is it not only something they’ve become used to, but also started to use for themselves like it’s good?! And when I asked one about it, she said “it’s okay because it’s me using it!” or something like that. Whyyyyyyy?

        • Sweets
          April 8, 2013 at 10:32 am (10 years ago)

          I know, that “it’s ok, it’s just me” thought process makes me sad. It took me a really, really long time to realize that if I talked badly about myself, I’d think badly about myself. It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Not only that, but if I talk/think badly about myself, I’ll apply the same hideously awful standards to other women. I had to learn to be kind to myself in order to be kind to others, and the kinder I thought about other women’s bodies, the gentler I was with myself. A cycle of good instead of evil, if you will.

        • Samantha
          April 8, 2013 at 11:00 am (10 years ago)

          I know what you mean. The way I got around to realizing I should be nice to myself is that I wanted so badly to be kind to everyone…else. And then eventually I puttered around to “maybe I should be included in that ‘everyone'”. It’s not easy, of course, but it does make it more frustrating and depressing when I hear how badly others tear themselves down. 🙁

    • Sweets
      April 8, 2013 at 9:39 am (10 years ago)

      HA! Love it. I also appreciate that you don’t gender-discriminate when it comes to your boobs 🙂

  2. thelingerielesbian
    April 8, 2013 at 10:52 am (10 years ago)

    I also worry about the right words to use! The words I use most often are boobs, breasts, chest and bust. I always feel like ‘bust’ is the most respectable, with boobs being the friendly, casual one. Breasts definitely seems formal/medical and chest is the most unspecific, addressing the whole frontal region.

    Anything too euphemistic makes me giggle. And ‘titties’ is THE WORST.

    • Sweets
      April 8, 2013 at 11:02 am (10 years ago)

      I like your breakdown! I find “chest” to be the most . . . inoffensive? one to use in mixed company. I tend to use “bust” when I’m talking about clothing and fit, but less so when I’m talking about breasts and bra fitting. Can we all just agree NEVER to use “titties”, not even ironically? It’s so, so dumb.

  3. windiegardie
    April 8, 2013 at 2:59 pm (10 years ago)

    I agree with Caro’s list. I always have to wonder which word I should use when I’m writing a post. I used to use “breasts” a lot, and tried to ignore how formal it sounded, but lately I’m liking “boobs” (hah, I always like boobs…). It’s just friendly and casual, which is the tone I like to take on my blog.

    Though when I got to “biscuits” on your list, I sort of snickered and loved it… I would never actually use it, but… biscuits… ehehe

    • Sweets
      April 8, 2013 at 3:37 pm (10 years ago)

      Of all the “cutesy” ones, biscuits is a good choice 🙂

  4. Laura Brasinha
    April 8, 2013 at 4:26 pm (10 years ago)

    I like “tatas”, but only because it sound so British! I believe boobs is the best option: not offensive/sexual and not too cientific!

    • Sweets
      April 8, 2013 at 5:10 pm (10 years ago)

      Ha, thanks! I was worried that some people might be really turned off by “boobs”, but so far it’s getting a pass 🙂

  5. Holly Jackson
    April 8, 2013 at 5:50 pm (10 years ago)

    I love that you actually made a list! I tend to go with boobs and then breasts or chest in the presence of the older/more dignified people when I have to describe my job.

    On a side note, this will probably be the post that is the gift that keeps on giving in terms of hilarious SEO results for you.

    • Sweets
      April 8, 2013 at 6:04 pm (10 years ago)

      OH DEAR. I . . . I hadn’t even thought of that. I will probably laugh/probably cry over it here soon.

  6. Laura
    April 8, 2013 at 8:16 pm (10 years ago)

    I call them boobs, the chest, the breasts, sometimes the chesticles (it makes me giggle), my rack, Lefty and Righty, the ladies (mine are dignified and refined and too old to be called “girls”)… I think that about covers it for me!

    • Sweets
      April 8, 2013 at 10:35 pm (10 years ago)

      I really appreciate that you and your boobs have a nickname-caliber relationship 🙂 Also that you appreciate their dignity.

      • Laura
        April 9, 2013 at 9:29 pm (10 years ago)

        Well, they do have different personalities. Lefty is the more outgoing one — aka, the larger one that likes to quadboob first. I like to think Righty is more reserved and shy. Always fits nicely in the cup and never causes me any trouble.

    • Sweets
      April 8, 2013 at 10:35 pm (10 years ago)

      Merci. It just feels right to me 🙂

  7. amymeemee
    April 9, 2013 at 4:49 am (10 years ago)

    Boobs! or sometimes boobies, I have a habit of calling them boo-boos too, the little girl I nanny for is going through an ‘obsessed with boobs’ phase and that’s what she calls them, haha.

    Breasts makes me feel a bit uncomfortable it feels standoffish, and mammaries makes me think of breast feeding. My mum always called them bazookas when I was growing up so I don’t mind that too. Or I sometimes call them ‘the boys’ because they are nicknamed after twin football players. I have an intimate relationships with my boobs.

    Biscuits is hilarious to me, I’ve only ever heard it used once on TV, in the context “Put away those fiery biscuits!”

    • amymeemee
      April 9, 2013 at 5:56 pm (10 years ago)

      Also, funbags.

      • Sweets
        April 9, 2013 at 11:41 pm (10 years ago)

        Oh god, I can’t lie, funbags makes CRINGE. I can’t believe I left it off the list. Maybe it was on purpose because it just ahhh the mental picture is just …. CRINGE. Do you use it in seriousness or when you’re joking around? I’m genuinely curious.

        • amymeemee
          April 10, 2013 at 4:00 am (10 years ago)

          Ugh no, I don’t use it, had enough of hearing that by the time I was 16….
          I was reading the list to my boyfriend and he came out with it, I think I’d slap him if he called mine funbags 😛

  8. faustineli
    April 11, 2013 at 3:02 pm (10 years ago)

    I actually hate the word ‘boobs’. Makes me think of birds. I’ll use ‘tits’ if I’m being crass (I am unsure why it’s more offensive to most, used only with very close friends and when referring to my own). I do like Gok Wan’s ‘bangers’ but never use the term.

    • Sweets
      April 11, 2013 at 3:21 pm (10 years ago)

      Oh BIRDS! Oh my goodness, I never even thought about that! Does it bother you when I say “boobs” on the blog? I definitely don’t want it to be a turn-off for anyone!

      • faustineli
        April 11, 2013 at 3:47 pm (10 years ago)

        Nah, I accept that ‘boobs’ is most acceptable to the majority and am not offended at all!
        I will, however leave you with an image of two fluttering trapped birds glued to the chest.

        • Sweets
          April 11, 2013 at 4:06 pm (10 years ago)

          Hahahahahaha oh god. Thanks for that.

    • Tom
      April 17, 2013 at 7:38 am (10 years ago)

      Ha ha, Faustineli- Tit is the word that makes me think of birds! Probably comes from having lived in Europe where the Great Tit and Blue Tit are adorable little cuties adorning trees everywhere in the summer (even the Great Tit isn’t that big a bird, in spite of its name)

      Were you thinking of the sea bird, the Booby?

      Anyhow, whenever I hear a girl refer to her Boobs I just can’t shake the image of an old TV, the “Boob Tube” as it’s derisively called here in N. America. I presume that name comes from the fact that the singular word Boob used to refer to a bumbling incompetent in days gone by. At least I don’t get images of Bozo the Clown dancing in my minds eye when girls call their mammalian organs Boobs 🙂 Of course, in England Boob Tubes are what we call Tube Tops here . . . and so it goes on . . .

  9. miscellaneouscraftiness
    May 23, 2013 at 3:03 pm (10 years ago)

    I use breasts and bust primarily to refer to my…errr….breasts. I wouldn’t say boobs myself, but I wouldn’t find it offensive in the setting of a fitting. My best advice is to mirror whatever term your client uses and to make sure you are using words that feel natural to you. If you feel awkward or uncomfortable or stuffy saying something, that feeling is going to translate to your client. I honestly think that’s the most important thing.


    • Sweets
      May 23, 2013 at 3:32 pm (10 years ago)

      That’s great advice: mirroring. It’s a good reminder that there’s never a hard and fast rule about what’s right, and you have to be sensitive to people around you.


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