Savage Love logo
Credit: Robert Ullman

Get to know D.C. with our daily newsletter

We dive deep on the day’s biggest story and share links to everything you need to know.

As you can see by my signature, Dan, I’m a linguist. On your podcast, you frequently ask researchers “whatchyougot” on all kinds of sex- and romance-related questions. I thought maybe you’d be interested in some expertise on linguistic matters, too. And I have some on “cum,” “cumming,” and (shudder) “cummed.”

The technical term here used among linguists for this kind of phenomenon is “peeve.” Let me clarify, it’s not the “cum,” “cumming,” and “cummed” that’s a peeve, but the shuddering. You see, the snide sound there is due to the fact that what causes peevers to shudder causes linguists to get interested. The point is language always changes, and linguists are interested in these changes however much they horrify normal people. (That’s our technical term for non-linguists.) Grandparents are forever lamenting about how their grandchildren’s generation is ruining the language. Documentation of this phenomenon goes back to the Roman times. And indeed, generations upon generations of grandchildren turned Latin into Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, Catalan, and a host of lesser-known forms of ruination.

In terms of the sticky substance at hand (or on hand), cum as a verb and cumming are just alternative spellings, which are common enough for slang. It’s slang! Are you really gonna insist slang follow uptight and buttoned-down spelling rules, Dan? That’s just stoopid. Cummed is more interesting—and also causes peevers to shudder—because it’s a real change in the language. But why shudder? Why not appreciate it instead? “Cummed” shows us how creative we are with our language, how we play with it, and, in this case, do something useful, differentiating the sublime “got off” (climaxed) from the banal “got there” (arrived).

Don’t fall into useless peeving, Dan! You’ve famously instigated language change. Just ask Rick Santorum, your former college roommate, or the men who’ve cummed and cummed hard while a nice vagina-haver pegged their ass.

—Michael Newman, Professor of Linguistics and Chair, Department of Linguistics and Communication Disorders, Queens College/CUNY

Thank you for taking the time to write, Professor Newman, and please forgive me for peeving you. But the sticky issue for me, if you’ll pardon the expression, remains the seemingly unnecessary and arbitrary use of an alternate spelling in this one instance. As I’ve said before, no one is confused when someone calls a person a “dick” in print and then goes on to wax poetic about the dick they sucked in the next sentence. If we don’t have to spell it “dik” when we’re referring to male genitalia—or the genitals of penis-havers—I don’t see why “come” needs to be spelled “cum” when referring to someone climaxing or when referring to ejaculate. Of all the words out there with more than one meaning—dick, dong, cock, pussy, beaver, box, crack, rack, sack—why does this one require special linguistic treatment? —Dan Savage

Interesting take on cum … as your column ventured into linguistics. How do you feel about “tonite” for “tonight” or “lite” for “light”? Inquiring minds want to know. —Commonly Used Mutated Spellings

I made inquiries at the website of the world’s best dictionary (and best drag name) Merriam-Webster, CUMS, where I learned tonite is “a blasting explosive consisting of a mixture of guncotton with a nitrate,” and lite means “made with a lower calorie content or with less of some such ingredient (salt, fat, or alcohol) than usual.” So you can have dinner tonight and wash it down with something lite, CUMS, but don’t have tonite for dinner unless you want to light yourself up. —DS

I basically agree with your views about spelling the verb as “come.” However, I think one could be a bit more nuanced about usage here. “Come” is rather polite and could easily be used in a romantic context (“Oh god honey I’m about to come”) whereas “cum” has a definite “let’s fuck” feel to it (something not unheard of in your column). Different contexts call for different styles, perhaps. I would also like to make an outright exception for the substance “cum,” which I feel should always be spelled with a “u.” For the noun, using the “u” hardly seems vulgar at all. One might wonder why cum seems more appropriate for denoting semen. I can think of two good reasons. First, “cum” evokes “scum,” which matches the feelings of some (benighted) people that cum is slimy and disgusting. And secondly, the final letters “um” occur in some medical terms—all nouns—which relate to sex, like pudendum, scrotum, rectum, flagellum, perineum. This is a very different association than scum but also seems like part of the story, at least to me. —Seems Completely Understandable Myself

Hm … I agree that an alternate spelling when referring to ejaculate could be helpful. But context also provides clarity. If a man and/or penis-haver says, “My come was everywhere,” no one thinks his/hers/their orgasms are Jesus Christ or dark matter—literally everywhere throughout the universe—but rather that he’s/she’s/they’re exaggerating about the volume of a recent orgasm to make a point about the intensity of pleasure he/she/they derived from it. —DS

I’ve been a copy editor for 15 years and a Savage Love reader for much longer. I wanted to chime in on fellow Canadian COME’s letter about the “come” vs “cum” spelling. I fully agree that as a verb, it should be “come” and “came/coming” instead of “cummed/cumming.” But there is a place for “cum:” as a noun when referring to the actual gooey substance (aka semen, ejaculate, spunk, etc). Consider the sentence, “I have come in my mouth.” Are you announcing an act of autofellatio (talk about a cumblebrag!) or are you describing a substance someone else left behind? Or, “How did come get on my jacket?” Doesn’t that just look like a mistake? Millennials love turning nouns into verbs (adulting!) but I think using “come” as a noun is incorrect. And what about describing something as “cummy?” How would you spell that? Comy? Comey? Perhaps we can all come together on this: “come” for the verb of achieving orgasm, “cum” for the noun that describes the resulting emission. —Copyeditor Uses Modification For A Noun

Your argument convinced me, CUMFAN. If everyone else agrees to use “come” for the verb, I can swallow “cum” as a noun. The copy editor carries the day! —DS

You were close with your advice to Cabin Fever, the man whose teenager was derailing his sex life, but it was still a miss. Instead of telling his kid to “take a fucking walk,” per your advice, he should use the moment to teach. As you said, Dan, even teenage boys realize that happy-and-still-in-love parents are a good thing. So instead of being confrontational, CF and his wife could laugh and pay their son the compliment of being honest: “We enjoy sex but we don’t enjoy it with you in the next room any more than you enjoy hearing it.” Then come up with someplace for him to go for a few hours that HE wants to go to and make it happen. By being upfront, they’ll be modeling healthy adult behavior and a healthy and adult approach to problem solving. This is truly an opportunity for good parenting. —Mom And Dad Are Fucking

While I did advise CF to tell his kid to “take a fucking walk” when Mommy and Daddy wanted to peg, I expected CF to approach that conversation in a tactful and constructive manner. That said, due to the pandemic, there aren’t many places for a kid to go when his parents are fucking. A walk, for now, may be their best option. If CF’s family doesn’t already have a dog, perhaps they should get one. —DS

To my readers: There are more important things happening in the world right now than disputes over sexual slang, I realize, but I hope today’s column was a welcome and fleeting distraction from the news … kinda like that viral video of the sweet guy whose cat won’t let him make his audition tape. I am following the news and reacting in real time on Twitter, if you care to hear what I have to say, and like all sane people everywhere, I am equal parts furious and mortified. Donald Fucking Trump and every last one of his co-conspirators in his family, in his administration, and in Congress belong in prison with every last traitor who stormed the U.S. Capitol last week. Impeach the motherfucker again, and indict all the motherfuckers already. —DS

Email your Savage Love questions to mail@savagelove.net