As long as there have been dicks, there have been nicknames for them. Green’s Dictionary of Slang includes terms like like “fescue,” “long plum,” and “kicky-wicky” dating back to Elizabethan England, and Shakespeare himself was no stranger to genital wordplay.
Among this plethora of terms for the genitals, many could be classified as pet names used primarily outside of the bedroom — names that seem intended to neutralize or “defang” the penis, if you’ll pardon the imagery. Here we have our Moby Dicks, our Johnnies, our Napoleons. And then there are the names used in intimate encounters, when the aural qualities and clinical connotations of “penis” simply don’t measure up and one has to pronounce something more powerful.
Let’s start with the obvious: The main event in the battle of the dick names has to be “dick” versus “cock.” These are the two terms most people tend to, uh, reach for. They’re simple. They’re punchy. They’re well-known — unlikely to raise an eyebrow or inspire a group text about your preferences. As Gary*, 37, puts it, “[Dick] doesn’t feel silly or take me out of the situation. It’s the most common word I use in relation to it — intercourse or no.”
Jake, 22, of Maryland notes that “‘dick’ feels extremely jokey, [but] outside of intercourse, ‘cock’ is way too vulgar.” Taylor, in his mid-20s, adds that “dick is used too often in a nonsexual context, not to mention that it doubles as a synonym for a bad person.” Phil, 36 and a native Brit, agrees: “[Dick] sounds diminutive, belittling. It almost sounds like a joke.”
In addition to having comical versus serious connotations, the two terms may even evoke size differences. For example, Jet, a 33-year-old Australian trans guy, prefers to use “dick” since “cock somehow implies more size than I have.”
It’s not just about connotations, though — “dick” and “cock” have very different sounds, or mouthfeels, if you will. Here, Phil provides a full-throated defense of the sonic qualities of “cock,” noting that “it has a full, open-mouthed sound. It’s hard to even use the word in an insulting manner — it just doesn’t have the bite. There’s something slightly awed about it, while still having room to be playful. It’s a more inviting, inclusive sound.”
But not everyone feels this way. Chase, a 26-year-old from California, explains, “‘Cock’ always comes off too aggressive to me—it’s almost like dirty-talk imposter syndrome.” Twenty-two-year-old Kyle from Toronto adds, “The word ‘cock’ straight up grosses me out and turns me off.”
Some men don’t actually love either “dick” or “cock,” finding them both distasteful, uncomfortable or otherwise lacking. You might expect that this would be a feeling limited to those, like trans men, who tend to have more complicated relationships to their bodies. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Take 20-year-old Ian from Illinois, who finds that “‘cock’ doesn’t feel pleasant to say — not that ‘dick’ does either. ‘Cock’ makes me think of ‘caulk,’ which isn’t the kind of imagery I want to evoke in relation to my penis.”
Lacking an ideal term, some men simply opt for “it.” “Any other nickname I can think of seems too cute and would take me out of the moment,” explains 27-year-old Piers, from Portland.
Others spurn the notion of referring to their penis entirely. Again, this isn’t a phenomenon strictly associated with trans guys. As Drew, 21, of Pennsylvania says, “Instead of ‘your penis is so big,’ I’d rather, ‘You’re so big.’ I don’t like my penis to be referenced as itself.” Jack, 32, of Alberta, seconds this, saying, “I usually just like people to refer to it as being identical with myself.” Kyle adds, “I hate the phrase ‘suck my cock.’ Something like ‘suck me off’ is way hotter.”
There are two possible readings of this phenomeon: That some guys are, for whatever reason, uncomfortable with having their genitals named, or that they identify with them to the point of erasing the distinction between the dick and the dude. That said, maybe it’s not fair to just focus on guys here. Plenty of women do the same thing in a slightly more subtle way, saying “fuck me” versus “fuck my pussy,” for example.
Curious as to whether language preferences were merely idiosyncratic or fell along some social lines, I initiated an extremely unscientific Twitter poll to explore one possible dimension of the question:
It’s impossible to say that this survey is representative of anyone besides those who answered it. But nonetheless, anecdotal evidence suggests that there’s likely some racial dynamics at play. As Chase notes, “My hang-ups about the term ‘cock’ probably stem from the ‘big black cock’ stereotype and how a trans dude like myself would never in a million years fit into that.” When MEL writer Mikelle Street explored the issue, he found that black men of all sexualities had to confront and deal with this stereotype — and also suggested that “cock” was more often used by white men and women than their black counterparts.
The BBC stereotype is perpetuated through porn, which made me wonder if other language around genitals is influenced by it as well. I asked my friend Missy Martinez, who tells me that “dick” and “cock” are, perhaps unsurprisingly, the most commonly used terms. However, she also notes that European performers use terms like “willy” and “prick,” suggesting some cross-cultural differences.
What are we to make of this pile of diverse opinions and feelings on penile pseudonyms? They may not seem to be as loaded as slang terms for the female genitals like “pussy” and “cunt,” which double as pejoratives for failed men or bitchy women. At worst, “dick” is kind of a rude person. Nonetheless, terms like “dick” and “cock” can carry tremendous meaning varying by race, trans status and sexuality. In fact, there’s so much meaning attached to dick names that some guys just want to opt out of them entirely.
So what should you call your penis? Whatever you want, honestly — dick, cock, nothing at all — it’s all fair game.
Just probably not “hog.”
*Names have been changed to protect the innocent.