Exotic or Erotic? Safire Tells All

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Being the dorky word geek that I am, I enjoy parusing William Safire’s On Language column in the New York Times Sunday Magazine on occassion. There’s something terribly interesting about the origins of words, if for no other reason than they reveal how we often get worked up over semantics without even understanding the real meaning of the verbage we use.

In this week’s column, Safire discusses the difference between “exotic” and “erotic” dancers. Apparently, a gentleman wrote in and was rather displeased by the usage of “exotic dancer” in stories surrounding the Duke Lacrosse team and allegations of rape.

My first thought was that this guy had too much time on his hands. My second thought was that his premise that “exotic” is just a term we use to get around the uncomfortable truth that this is actually “erotic” dancing is really better worded like this, “Let’s just say it. This woman is a sex dancer designed to work up these young kids and, if she got raped, well, that’s just part of the business.”

I hope I’m wrong about that, but it seems that the people who scream the loudest about virtually nothing find at the core of their argument anger over the injustice of something equally as baseless. But, I digress.

Safire goes back to the 1800’s to find the origins of the terminology and describes in great detail the cititations and how they apply today. His conclusion…

It is still a mistake to confuse the adjective erotic (maddeningly sexy) with exotic (mysteriously foreign). But the phrase exotic dancer – which preceded stripteaser and became for a time a euphemism for it – has for longer than a generation made the usage leap to become synonymous with stripper and the more recent nude dancer.

Therefore, this language maven deems it no mistake to adopt common usage of the phrase exotic dancer to mean “one who strips off clothing to arouse sexual desire by displaying the naked body in motion.”

Am I the only one who finds this, to quote language expert Paris Hilton, totally hot? Probably. Sigh.

🙂

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