Reptile dysfunction

From “Better Drug Ads, Fewer Side Effects”, a NYT op-ed piece by Ian D. Spatz (February 10), on direct-to-consumer drug ads on tv:

Nearly 14 years later [after such ads were allowed], with parents confronting uncomfortable questions from their young children about “reptile dysfunction” and nearly $5 billion a year spent on TV ads for treating everything from toe nail fungus to cancer, critics, the medical community and even the drug companies themselves are wondering if there is any way to put this genie back in its lamp.

Yes, reptile dysfunction, which originated as either a simple mishearing or an eggcornish reshaping of unfamiliar material (erectile, in particular) to something that contains more familiar parts (reptile), or perhaps one on some occasions and the other on others. And, probably, as deliberate word play on still other occasions.

In any case, it’s now a widespread piece of silliness, reproduced in quips, in cartoons, and on t-shirts, for instance these two items:

There’s an iguana version of the first and a lizard version of the second, and probably many others as well.

Geckos (and iguanas) are lizards, and lizards are reptiles, so the first t-shirt is straightforward. (Well, not entirely, since it’s, alas, possible to “break” your penis; see the calmly written but painful to read Mayo Clinic bulletin on penis fracture.)

The second is more complex, since snake (lizard too) is used in playful references to the penis. “My snake/lizard has a reptile dysfunction” then is doubly playful, with a perfect pun in the subject and an imperfect (actually, quite distant) pun in the direct object.

As for explaining reptile dysfunction to children, that just reduces to the problem of explaining erectile dysfunction (an issue that remains even for children who heard the expression correctly but of course had no idea what it might mean), and there the parental discomfort comes not from the expression, but from its referent. Even parents who have told their kids the story of the man’s putting his penis in the woman’s vagina (in whatever vocabulary they used: some parents treat penis and vagina as as wildly unacceptable as dick and pussy, etc., and resort to childish vocabulary like peepee and yoohoo, or even his thing and her thing) might not have wanted to go on to explain to young children the role of erection in the whole business, much less the fact that achieving and maintaining an erection can be difficult for some men.

4 Responses to “Reptile dysfunction”

  1. Max Vasilatos Says:

    Ha! Back in the day, we got sex education at school, very modern. Our parents had to sign permission slips, and the girls and boys were separated for the film strips from Disney about “changes in your body” or whatever.

    I recall a slumber party in eighth grade (about 13) where we spent a long time pondering “how does he get it in?” because in all of this, nobody mentioned erections.

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    Erections are probably TMI for young children. But children (of both sexes) approaching puberty should have these things explained to them by someone who’s both knowledgeable and supportive. And at that point the advisers should get into (temporary) erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation, since both can affect a boy’s first sexual experiences (and, consequently his partner’s experience as well); boys can be too anxious about performance to get it up or so overwhelmingly aroused they shoot almost immediately. It’s soothing to know (as I did) that these things happen, pretty often, that that’s not the end of the world, there are other pleasurable things to do, and it will get better in time.

  3. Indecency? « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] terms for sexual anatomy have become almost as tainted as the corresponding slang expressions, as I reported a while back in a discussion of reptile dysfunction (used by a child): As for explaining reptile […]

  4. Annals of mishearing « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] Reptile dysfunction (link): … heard for erectile […]

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