Received in e-mail this morning, from Dave Sayers on the Variationist mailing list:

We are delighted to announce the next in the 2023-24 series of online guest seminars here in the English section at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland — open to all!

On Tues 10 Oct at 11:00 East European Summer Time Mie Hiramoto (National University of Singapore) and Wes Robertson (Macquarie University, Australia) will give a talk titled ‘Framing masculinity and cultural norms: A case study of male VIO hair removal in Japan’.

That’s it. I was baffled by VIO hair removal; it has two possible parsings, and some large number of possible interpretations. And I was baffled by what looked like an unfamiliar initialism, VIO. Masculinity and cultural norms being one of my areas of interest within the G&S (gender and sexuality) field, I wasn’t willing to let these puzzles just slide.

Two parsings (and many interpretations).

 [ VIO [ hair removal ] ‘hair removal related to VIO’, where VIO is one of: a social group, the removers of hair (cf. born-again hair removal, transsexual hair removal, Ainu hair removal, Japanese hair removal ‘hair removal by Japanese (people)’), a method of hair removal (cf. laser hair removal), a philosophy of hair removal (cf. Buddhist hair removal), a place where hair removal is practiced (cf. Japanese hair removal ‘hair removal in Japan’), or any number of other interpretations

[ [ VIO hair ] removal] ‘removal of VIO hair’, where VIO hair is hair related to VIO, VIO admitting of a wide variety of interpretations: an area of the body (cf. armpit hair, pubic hair), a racioethnic group (cf. Black hair, Jewish hair), an evaluative characterization (cf. ugly hair, unwanted hair), a physical characterization (cf. kinky hair), a color (cf. gray hair), and much more

The (apparent) initialism VIO. Acronym dictionaries list a great many unpackings for VIO, but none even remotely hair-relevant. Searching on “VIO hair removal”, I eventually discovered that VIO is Japanese terminology for the bikini zone, with the initials standing for

V line (the pubes and genitals), I line (the perineum), O line (the anus)

So: the three Latin letters are to be understood as iconic signs, as (highly abstract) pictures of the three bodyparts, not as an acronym, not as the initials in an abbreviation. I don’t think that such an interpretation would ever have occurred to me.

No doubt it never occurred to Hiramoto and Robertson, steeped as they are in Japanese sexual culture, that the letter-sequence VIO would be utterly opaque to outsiders, but it is; I had no clue as to what their paper is about, except that hair removal and males are involved, and that the removal takes place in Japan.

Missing lexical items. A recurrent theme on this blog is that languages regularly lack ordinary-language, widely used lexical items for referential categories of things that are in fact relevant in the sociocultural context the language is embedded in.

So it is for English and the body region that extends from the waistline under the crotch to the anus: the pubes, genitals, perineum, and anus, taken together. This is a region of modesty, and it’s socioculturally highly salient in English-speaking communities generally, but English has no lexical item covering just that territory.

The composite phrase private parts would have been a good choice, but it’s already taken, as a euphemism for the central portion of the region of modesty, the genitals. In this case, it’s hard to see how we could get by with a narrow sense of the phrase (the current usage) alongside a broad sense (for the region of modesty). So we’ll bump along with things as they are, as we do in lots of other cases; people cope. Maybe someone can start a fashion for VIO in English.

Cover your VIO, dude! Were you born in a barn? (And while you’re at it, close the front door!)

One Response to “VIO”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    Meanwhile, I’m grateful that you elucidated “G&S” in place, overriding my automatic association with the great Victorian librettist/composer team (especially strong right now since I’m currently working on several songs from their œuvre).

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