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This example is from the Cambridge Dictionary's article for 'orifice'.

I was stuffing cake into every available orifice.

My American friend told me that it sounds inappropriate, because orifice might mean anus. Does it really sound so vulgar when you first hear it? I am interested in the level of vulgarity here.

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2 Answers 2

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Yes, it's somewhat vulgar, but it's also a little funny. This is really one of those examples where the magic of language is revealed. A statement like this has a separate meaning and a feeling to express.

Here's what goes through this native speaker's mind, approximately. "Wow, he is saying he was putting cake into his nose and into his ears. Maybe even his anus, but whether he intended me to have that image in mind really depends on what I know about his personality. Well, that's a ridiculous and disgusting picture. He's trying to be funny and set a funny tone. Okay, so what is really the feeling he is describing? It sounds like he was being very greedy with the cake, eating it very fast, maybe wishing that he had two mouths so he could eat it faster."

So, between two individuals who engage in vulgar jokes together, it will be clear to each participant that a vulgar exaggerated image is intended. Between two people who do not tend to engage in vulgarity, it is clear that the image is really meant to be more like putting cake in the ears. Consequently, this is a very rude and dangerous kind of joke to make to someone you don't know that well precisely because they won't be sure how to interpret it.

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Just as a note, the meaning and feeling of a word is its denotation and connotation, respectively. (Not nitpicking the answer, just as a vocabulary helper) –  Patrick May 21 at 2:54
@Patrick: It is a website for English learners, not for linguists ;) –  Graduate May 21 at 11:41
@Graduate Apologies if my comment was out of place in this Stack Exchange. Also, I probably should have used "are" instead of "is". Oh well. –  Patrick May 21 at 12:29
@Patrick, glad you added the info. You may not be surprised to learn my process in writing this involved thinking "how can I say denotation and connotation to an English language learner?" :) –  leoger May 21 at 21:07
@leoger as someone who just used "denotation" and "connotation" in an answer: teach the controversy! They're such useful words for answering the kinds of questions we get here -- so often questions along the lines of "no, really, tell me really how this strikes the native speaker", like this question -- that really, they're reasonable tools to expect our askers to get used to using. –  Codeswitcher May 21 at 22:43

Orifice is an unusual word that does not come up in common speech. While the original meaning of the word was not vulgar in nature, in recent times the most common usage of this word in colloquial language refers to sexual activity, in which one can speak of various orifices which can be penetrated. Thus to most native speakers the use of the word "orifice" probably takes on at least a vaguely vulgar connotation.

For the sentence "I was stuffing cake into every available orifice," I understand this to mean that it refers to the nose and mouth, because those are the pragmatically relevant orifices (basically it means eating the cake very messily by stuffing the cake into ones face). But speech is changing so that this meaning will be lost among many speakers who do not know the history of this word.

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While I agree that there is at least a vaguely vulgar connotation to the word, the sexual connotation is but one of several, and the word doesn't automatically bring sexual activity to my mind. For example, there is a great deal of colloquial reference to drug couriers secreting drugs in body orifices. Gross. Then there are clinical references to bleeding from orifices, suppuration from orifices, etc. Also gross. I'd say both of those contribute to the vulgar feeling of the word. –  BobRodes May 20 at 22:29
Maybe, my answer was just what came to mind for me. –  aestrivex May 20 at 22:29
Yes, we shall let our fair readers draw their own conclusions. :) –  BobRodes May 20 at 22:31

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