Words: johnson, n.

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The Independent Culture
IN A beguiling review of William Boyd's first novel, A.N. Wilson noted the clinical references to the "penis". Boyd listened: in An Ice- Cream War it is "cock". Redolent of plumbing, this highlights a need for some more dignifed slang - johnson, perhaps.

Nineteenth-century American, it is a possible echo of an obscure English phrase, Dr Johnson. In our own era, when the President dictated minutes from his lavatory seat, it also embraces Beavis and Butt-Head, a riff in Martin Amis - and the Ladies' Home Journal. For which, Jane Lane interviewed Richard Gere and made bold to ask, "Are you gay?" To which the actor replied, "You want to see a sex object?" As Ms Lane says, "He took out his johnson. It just petered out after that, so to speak."

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