It’s not just the word “titties” that has undergone a strange online transformation. “Penis,” a likewise amusing pair of syllables, has also evolved (or decomposed, if you prefer). Unlike the horny, irrepressible “titties,” it is a clinical term, spoken with seriousness by doctors and health teachers — so language provides an inexhaustible trove of crude synonyms: dick, dong, cock, wang, knob, johnson, pipe, weiner, hog.
But since the early 2000s, we’ve been warping “penis” itself, slangifying the word into something that meme culture can really get a grip on. We were reminded of this most recently by Daryush Valizadeh, aka Roosh V, a misogynist troll whose musings on masculinity are so brain-twistingly inane you could almost mistake them for performance art. Ol’ Roosh, starved for attention as always, posted a video in which he explained that an erotic interest in women’s butts is a “gateway to homosexuality” for straight men. We could spend the rest of the week unpacking the Freudian baggage of this argument. Instead, consider a single component: “Benis.” That’s what Roosh calls his penis.
“What, did you use a plunger, whatever, a scrubber to get all the fecal matter there?” he asks of a hypothetical woman interested in anal sex. “You didn’t do that, so why am I going to put my benis in there. “I’m not stupid. I shower every day. I’m clean. Why would I put my benis in a butt.” These, too, are questions for another day, because there’s no getting past the “benis” right now. I mean… benis. You get the sense that Roosh is pronouncing it this way to skeeve us out — and he does — yet in another context, “benis” is actually quite funny, an odd infantilization of a familiar word. It’s also so close to “penis” (the “b” sound is merely the voiced version of the aspirated consonant “p”) that it feels, when you hear it, as if your ears are playing tricks on you. The “b” makes it goofier, bouncier and less sexual. Why is this? If we knew, it might not have that effect.
One community that throws “benis” around is the subreddit r/weekendgunnit, where gun owners joke about improper firearm safety and mock the Second Amendment nuts who play-act as military operators. Here you can see the meme’s function in a larger critique of delusional masculinity — “benis,” an 8-year-old’s malaprop, is a nod to American gun culture’s often juvenile spirit and the popular notion that a rifle is a phallic substitute. No one could be impressed, let alone intimidated, by a benis, not even a “huge” one. It’s a ridiculous proposition, especially if you go by the best Urban Dictionary definition of the idiom, in which “benis” is framed as a portmanteau of “penis” and “balls,” and therefore taken to indicate the entire dangling package. As hot a prospect as that may seem to some, “benis” robs it of any agency. It becomes an inert and unusable apparatus.
“Millennials love to play with words because our brains have been poisoned by the internet,” says MEL deputy editor Alana Levinson, who previously expounded upon the countless mutations of the word titty. “I actually think it’s a way of rebelling in a way from the boomers. We intentionally misspell and no one cares. Remember how we’d use acronyms online because they were easier but also to hide from parents? I think that spirit lives on, even though we are adults. And now that there’s so much content everywhere, you need ways to signal who you are, or your community.”
Bepis and Pebis
That’s no doubt the case with “bepis,” a fascinating neologism traced to a 2011 YouTube video that gives this as the proper pronunciation of “penis.” Bepis can be derived a couple of ways — as a transposition of the typo “pebis” (a pretty great penis alternative in its own right, not least because of its proximity to “pubes” and “pubis”), or as a corruption of the Pepsi soda brand. The “bepis” phenomenon represents confluence of these factors, as meme expert Jay Hathaway has laid out in a Daily Dot explainer, and so a handy in-joke for a certain digital tribe: 4chan-adjacent shitposters who watch anime TV and movies — which avoid violating Pepsi’s copyright with these variants.
Across the board, you notice how the addition of a specific letter flips a linguistic switch: If you want to unlock a word’s meme potential, just mangle it with an incongruous b — an automatically hilarious stumbling block, particularly if confused with or deployed near its plosive twin, p. This was the basis of a massively popular (and controversial) memeworld trend, also covered by Hathaway, that had creators peppering their posts with the red “B” ideogram emoji wherever they could. First popularized within Black Twitter, Hathaway notes, the B memes are theoretically “borrowing from a Blood gang tradition of replacing the letter ‘C’ with a ‘B,’ to erase the rival Crips from the alphabet.” Soon enough, however, they were a kind of meta commentary on virality, trendhunting and the malleability of language. “B” is a chaotic agent, rendering all as nonsense.
What About the Bussy?
A related case is that of the word “bussy,” typically defined as a man’s anus: the “boy pussy” or “butt pussy.” Inherent to this graphic jargon is the idea that any guy penetrated during sex has appropriated something of the feminine. If he accepts a benis or bepis into his ass, this unappealing orifice — the cavity that so repulses Roosh — is remade into an eminently fuckable vagina. The rapper Azealia Banks has reinforced this parallel by marketing gendered “intimate” soaps under the names Pussypop and Bussyboy, and “bussy” as it appears in the popular imagination has much to do with submission bordering on degradation, of a piece with the phrase “I’m just a hole, sir,” a now canonical response to extreme hotness. The bussy is there, in a sense, to be wrecked.
Truly, there is no limit to what B-inflected permutations of male anatomical vocabulary can do — and this may well be the point. For so long we have suffered with a vision of the masculine form as utilitarian and undynamic, but a bit of gibberish like “pebis” makes it fresh and surprising once more. These are silly alphabetic scrambles, of course, though no less arbitrary than “real” words, and in their anarchic joy they allow for an understanding of a man’s body as something pliable, fluid, even innocent. Dick is boring. Cock is aggressive. “Benis”… well, you kinda want to see where that one goes.