Is “Cum” Vulgar? (Is Lenny Bruce Still Dead?)

Few legal specialties are as boring as trademark law—unless, of course, someone wants to trademark a sexually-oriented device, phrase, or logo.

The U.S. trademark office is supposed to be a dull bureaucracy that simply protects Americans’ intellectual property, thereby encouraging innovation.

First you invent a clever logo or slogan. You register it with the government, spending way too much on a lawyer whose overworked paralegal fills out a bunch of forms. Then you promote it, the public loves it, and you make money and get laid. Since you registered it nobody can copy it, so you can continue reaping the benefits of your creativity.

Registering a trademark is a tiresome, routine process. At least, it’s supposed to be. But just as the FCC has the bizarre power to keep “immoral” images and words from being broadcast, the trademark office is empowered to refuse to register trademarks that are “immoral” or “scandalous.”

Why, why, why? Why does the government give a darn if you want to trademark a naughty word or picture? Why is the government allowed to give a darn? A trademark is the way someone wants to represent him- or herself. Let the ever-sacred marketplace decide if a logo or slogan is too “scandalous” to succeed. No bureaucrat should be setting a standard for the nation.

Now on to the news.

The U.S. Trademark Office rejected Cathy Lynn Carlson’s attempt to trademark “You Cum Like A Girl” for T-shirts, tank tops, scarves, and other clothing. It said the expression “You Cum Like A Girl” is scandalous because the word cum is a “vulgar” term, slang for “semen ejaculated during orgasm.”

Carlson just lost her appeal. The authority of the Trademark Office was reaffirmed, as was the “vulgarity” of the magic syllable.

Memo to the Trademark Office: “cum” is how real people talk.

Some of my patients—the healthier ones—use the word. Professionals like me—the more comfortable ones—use the word while we’re working. It’s part of how we connect with patients, letting them know we live in a real world they recognize, not in some perfect therapy-land.

Therapists, physicians, nurses, and other clinicians—the smart ones—encourage patients to use the word with each other. When it comes to sexual function, nothing is more important than partners talking openly with each other. Phrases like “down there” are shallow at best. Worse still is using no phrases at all, letting sex go by in an enforced, awkward silence.

After doing 30,000 hours of therapy, I can report that no one shrieks “I’m about to ejaculate!” No one excitedly encourages, “Yeah baby, have an orgasm!” And almost no one refers to the “semen” creating that wet spot we all try to avoid. “Cum” is part of English. People know what it means, and they need a word that says what “cum” says.

Years ago, George Bernard Shaw said “We don’t think of sex decently, so we have no decent language with which to discuss it.” He was describing the way people disparage words used to discuss sex.

Well, “cum” is decent. To cum is more than decent.

To call cum immoral is scandalous.

* * * * * *

To is a preposition.
Come is a verb.
To is a preposition.
Come is a verb.
To is a preposition.
Come is a verb, the verb intransitive.
To come.

This was Lenny Bruce’s rap in 1964.

Now if anyone is this room or in the world finds those two words decadent, obscene, immoral, amoral, asexual—if the words “to come” really make you feel uncomfortable—if you think I’m rank for saying it to you, if you the beholder think it’s rank to listen to it, you probably can’t come. And then you’re of no use, because that’s the purpose of life, to re-create it.

This was one of the routines cited in New York v. Bruce, the obscenity trial that started the end of Lenny Bruce’s life. He was convicted forty-three years ago, before cable TV, videotape, the internet, and cell phones.

In 2003, New York Governor George Pataki pardoned Bruce.

In 2007, “cum” is still obscene.


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