If you know what I mean

“I’m going blind from this sweet-sweet craving, whoa-oh
Let’s lose our minds and go fucking crazy
Ah ya ya ya ya I keep on hoping we’ll eat cake by the ocean

 (“DNCE Cake by the ocean lyrics – Google Search”, n.d.)”

As we all know, food is a basic necessity in life. Everyone must eat and drink to stay alive. However, food has other connotations apart from the physical, nutritional substance that keeps you alive. In point of fact, food is relatable in all aspects of life. Food holds universal function in it. One of it is the power of food as a form of euphemism or dysphemism metaphor for the forbidden topic of sex.

 A metaphor is defined as an implied similarity that identifies one thing with another (Shaw, 1972). Meanwhile, euphemism is known for making a taboo concept mentionable and less offensive (Hojati, 2012, p. 553). Dysphemism is the opposite of euphemism. However, many euphemisms and dysphemism are structured based on metaphors conceptually (Gathigia, Ndung’u, & Njoroge, 2015, p. 21). Thus, food is one of the concepts used as a euphemism or dysphemism metaphor to refer to the topic of sex.

Sex is pervasive in everyday life, but it is also a topic of taboo and forbidden in the society at the same time. One of the ways to cope with the realm of sex is through metaphor. Sex is expressed as metaphors in many different ways, and one of them is by using food. These metaphors can either be in a pleasant or derogatory form namely euphemism or dysphemism metaphor. The conceptual metaphor ‘Sex is eating’ exemplify euphemism metaphor because it refers to sex as a physical event and a type of savoury food. However, the conceptual metaphor ‘Woman is a dish’ is the complete opposite. This is a form of dysphemism metaphor because it is used to degrade woman as an object or food to be savoured. We can note that food is not directly present in the phrases, but sex and women are directly linked to food. Thus, making it a form of food metaphor.

Food innuendos is another way of talking about this forbidden topic. Innuendo can be defined as insinuation about someone’s character (Metzger, & Fleetwood, 2005). Innuendo is similar to metaphor but with a slight difference in terms of directness. A metaphor is known to be more direct as compared to innuendo. Words such as ‘cookie’ or ‘cheesecakes’ are examples of innuendos and are used to denote sex objects as a goal to be enjoyed or eaten (Fernández, 2008, p. 99). Those words are often used on women as to equate women as a sex object. Thus, reducing women status to objects and also accompanied by the association of powerlessness, unanimity and procurable (Bucholtz, Liang, & Sutton, 2000, p.146). In the book, The Sexual Politics of Meat written by Adams (1990), women and animals are considered to be at the lowest level of the hierarchy. In other words, women are the victim of patriarchy. Therefore, it does not matter if the object is a real animal or a woman, it shows the male power and dominance when used metaphorically or through innuendo.

Food metaphors and innuendos are widely used to refer to sex. A restaurant in Sydney known as Paramount have dishes named like ‘Creaming Cock’ (Probyn, 1999). This occurrence is not only found in restaurants, but it is also accessible through television series. One of the series called Two Fat Ladies, show conversations between two ladies who talk about meatballs. In this case, they were referring to ‘real faggots’ (Probyn, 1999). Thus, we can note that food is used to represent sex and sexual identities erotically.  The music industry is not left out from joining the bandwagon. The music industry also uses food metaphors and innuendos as well. The excerpt at the beginning of this writing is actually the lyrics from the song ‘Cake by the ocean’ sang by an American band, DNCE. As someone naive and young, I was unaware that ‘cake by the ocean’ actually means sex on the beach until a little birdy told me so. Despite people of all ages knowing what a cake is, it does not imply that everyone comprehends the connotations behind it. Hence, the music industry uses food as metaphors to not only flaunt their creativeness but to also blur out the forbidden connotations behind the metaphors allowing people of all ages to enjoy their music. Thus, food metaphors and innuendos can be exclusive. Factors such as age, the generation they are born in and the food itself play a role in determining the in-group or out-group nature of the metaphors and innuendos. Therefore, this brings us to the next point.

Food is not chosen to be used as a metaphor to symbolize sex randomly. A preliminary review was done by Spang (2011), which shows two criteria that need to be fulfilled to become a metaphor for sex. But first, there is a pre-requisite. It is to understand the physical attribute of the food in order to fathom the similarity of the food and sexual act described. Moving on, the first criteria states that the food has to be local products, imported staples or well-known luxuries (Spang, 2011). Foods which are not normally consumed or familiar to the audience are rarely used as a metaphor for sex. It is important for the audience to recognize the food so that people will appreciate and enjoy the connotation or the pun of the metaphor. Second criteria that the food has to have to qualify as a food metaphor for sex is when the food has similar physical traits to some body parts or physical act described (Spang, 2011). Physical traits here would refer to the similarity of the shapes, smell, taste, texture as well as the colour of the food to the body parts or the sexual activity (Spang, 2011). Due to these criteria, different cultures will have different food selected as metaphors for sex. Hence, culture also plays a role in the determining what gets selected as food metaphor for sex. Different culture will also have different functions of food as a metaphor.

For western culture, the main reason for using food as metaphors to symbolize sex is due to the pleasurable feeling that one gets from eating food is very similar to when experiencing orgasm. For example, Philippe d’Orléans was said to enjoy well-prepared food and stated that ‘dish seductive to the eye and palate could give him orgiastic gratification’ (Aresty, 1980, p. 34). Christian ideologies may have further contributed to this perception of food as a sex symbol because it has always associate women’s flesh to food (Kemasang, 1989). However, in Sinaean Asian and China, they do not quite agree with mixing food and sex together. They strictly separate food as food and sex as sex (Kemasang, 1989). Instead, they would use food to describe their loved ones’ appearance. For example, they would call someone a ‘pau face’ to indicate that the person has a chubby face and it looks like the food ‘pau’. Hence, the usage of food metaphors varies for different cultures.

All in all, food is used in euphemism metaphors, dysphemism metaphors and innuendos to represent sex. But, this does not mean that food will supersede sex as the foundation of identities. It will not happen. No matter how widespread food metaphors and innuendos are, sex or sexual identities is irreplaceable by food because firstly, food has functions other than being associated with sex. It would be inappropriate in some cultures if food officially holds two meanings; the actual nutritional substance you eat for survival and the sexual identities or sex. Bear in mind that food is not the only metaphor to symbolize sex, but it is the most readily available (Probyn, 1999). Secondly, food is just used as a linguistic device to bridge the forbidden topic into a conversation. With the help of euphemism, dysphemism metaphors and innuendos, the forbidden topic of sex is tone down. Although dysphemism metaphors can be offensive, the offensiveness is not that great. Some may even find it sexually stimulating. Also, simply because it is food! Food is relatable in all aspect and is relevant in everyone lives. Therefore, food is used because most people are able to relate and comprehend in some ways or another.

There should be some sort of connection between food and sex which allow food to be a linguistic device in bridging the forbidden topic to a conversation. Hence, there is a set of requirements that food has to fulfil to qualify as one of the metaphors for sex. They are basically the food’s popularity in the population and relevance in terms of the sexual act and the physical traits of the food. The more popular and similarity of the sexual act to the traits of the fruits, the more likely it is used as a metaphor for sex.

Culture also plays a part in determining the role of food as a metaphor for sex. Due to the difference in cultures and geographical location, there is a variety of food used as metaphors and innuendos for sex.  There are also different perceptions towards food used as a metaphor for sex. In western culture, the pleasurable feeling from eating food is very similar to the pleasure experienced during a sexual act. However, in Asian cultures, food metaphors are more usually associated with an appearance. Hence, food is not only necessary for our survival in the world, but it is also essential for our social and physical life. So, the next time be careful to not spill Alfredo sauce all over you! If you know what I mean.



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Aresty, E.B. (1980) The Exquisite Table. A History of French Cuisine. New York: Bobbs- Merrill.

Metzger, M., & Fleetwood, E. (2005). Attitudes, innuendo, and regulators: challenges of interpretation. Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, c2005.

Shaw, H (1972). Dictionary of Literary Terms. New York: McGrawHill, Inc.

Spang, L. (2011). Fruits and Culture: A Preliminary Examination of Food-for-Sex Metaphors in English-language Caribbean Music. Folklore Forum. Retrieved 21 March 2018, from https://folkloreforum.net/2011/03/21/fruits-and-culture-a-preliminary-examination-of-food-for-sex-metaphors-in-english-language-caribbean-music/

Bucholtz, M., Liang, A.C., & Sutton, L.A. (2000). Reinventing identities: the gendered self in discourse. Oxford University Press, New York.

Fernández, E. C. (2008). Sex-Related Euphemism and Dysphemism: An Analysis in Terms of Conceptual Metaphor Theory. Journal of the Spanish Association of Anglo-American Studies, 30(2), 95-110.

Gathigia, M. G., Ndung’u, R. W., & Njoroge, M. C. (2015). SEXUAL INTERCOURSE EUPHEMISMS IN THE GĨKŨYŨ LANGUAGE: A COGNITIVE LINGUISTICS APPROACH. The University of Nairobi Journal of Language and Linguistics, 4, 20-41.

Hojati, A. (2012). A Study of Euphemisms in the Context of English-speaking Media. International Journal of Linguistics, 4(4), 552- 562. doi:10.5296/ijl.v4i4.2933

Kemasang, A. R. T. (1989). The confusion of food and sex in the West.

Probyn, E. (1999). Beyond Food/Sex: Eating and an Ethics of Existence. Theory Culture & Society, 16(2), 215-228.

DNCE Cake by the Ocean lyrics – Google Search. Google.com.sg. Retrieved 2 April 2018 from https://www.google.com.sg/search?q=DNCE+Cake+by+the+Ocean+lyrics&oq=DNCE+Cake+by+the+Ocean+lyrics&aqs=chrome..69i57j69i60j0l4.7291j0j4&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8