Wednesday, May 24, 2006

I'm taking my ballsy and I'm going home

There's a reason this picture is here, I swear. Read on.

Thanks for the picture:

"Ballsy" (meaning "brave") is such a great word -- it's crass, yes, but it's also direct, succinct, powerful and playfully daring. Sadly, if unsurprisingly, there's no really good female equivalent. Some might argue that this is because females are traditionally more craven and cowardly than males, but then those who argue that might soon find themselves on the business end of a botched circumcision. So, for the rest of us, it's time to find an appropriate feminine equivalent. There are a lot of brave, gutsy ("gutsy" is just too gender-neutral and frankly a bit ick-making) women out there who deserve a term of their own.

"Titsy" is, I think, a strong contender. It's fairly gender-specific (moobies notwithstanding), and has the same mischievous air of its south-of-the-border brother but not quite the level of Tropic-of-Capricorn vulgarity. Is "titsy," however, too playful? Is it a bit frilly, a bit girly, a bit . . . Barbie? It's a fun word to say, and I challenge you to say it now, out loud, wherever you are, however inappropriate it might be. What's the reaction? Did people ask you what you were reading (and did you tell them, 'cause frankly, I could use a broader audience)? Did they expect a profile of women's soccer in Sports Illustrated or a foldout in Penthouse? No, I think "titsy," while amusing, is a no-go. It's just a little too lightweight, lacking the gravitas of "ballsy."

So "ovaries," then? Ranks high on the gender-specificity, but a touch clinical, perhaps? "She's got ovaries," seems perhaps more accurate than descriptive and invites quizzical looks rather than high-fivin', fist-pumpin' shouts of "yeah!" and "you go, girl!" Possibly this could catch on as a term of admiration, but I don't have high hopes. Ovaries are mysterious, and most of us have only the most nominal idea of what this elaborate, interior scrollwork actually looks like. And there's no good adjective version available. "Wow! That was an ovary-ish thing to do!" is awkward at best. Ovarzish sounds like a Russian surname. Though that could just be the italics.

There are lots of seriously offensive possibilities that we're not going to discuss, so don't even start with me.

Perhaps the best alternative is to find a comfortable, gender-neutral term that has all the ooomph of "ballsy" but without its concomitant inequalities and its other-side-of-the-equator earthiness. "Brainy" is, tragically, in use, and in our cowboy culture, not as much a term of approbation. What other parts of the body denote strength, courage, fortitude? (If we must stick with the body-metaphor, and in the interest of space, I'm going to.) Well, according to several medical websites, the heart is the hardest-working organ in the human body, and the enamel of teeth is the hardest substance, but "hearty" and "toothy" are busy describing other things.

So I'm going to go for the obscure, the unexpected. That's what "ballsy" really means, isn't it? It's unexpected acts of bravery, surprising courage, the lunge for home plate or the top of the mountain against all odds. So I'm going for that most underrated organ: the spleen. The Rodney Dangerfield of the human body, the spleen is responsible for "creating lymphocytes which destroy and recycle red blood cells." ( It is the body's eco-terrorist, staging midnight raids on used red blood cells that would otherwise hang around, reliving the glory days and littering the body like so much toxic waste. Like courage, we can live without our spleen, but how much poorer would life be then? So, the spleen it is.

The next time someone makes a bold, unexpected move, reward him or her with a thumbs up and a "Wow. Seriously spleeny."