odds & ends·
5 min read
by Toni Brannagan | 03/04/2021
For as long as people have had periods, people have mostly loved to avoid talking about them.
If you think about it, even ‘period’ itself is just another euphemism for menstruation, referring to the menstrual cycle as a ‘period’ of menstruation. This might come as a surprise, but using the word ‘period’ to refer to, well, periods, only picked up steam in the 1800s. The earliest uses are found in medical textbooks (let’s take a guess at who wrote those.)
Since then, people all around the world, of all cultures, have come up with some pretty unique words in phrases to say in lieu of menstruation. One 2016 study by the International Women’s Health Coalition even found that over 5,000 slang terms have been generated. As a writer who spends most of my time looking up synonyms for different words, I’m in awe!
We’ve all heard ‘shark week’ and ‘Aunt Flo’s in town’, but here are a few others that are incredibly creative:
Red Army (Красная армия) — Language: Russian
The painters are in — Language: English
Granny’s stuck in traffic — Source: South Africa
I have a flood (Ho le inondazioni) — Language: Italian
Strawberry Week (Erdbeerwoche) — Language: German
There are communists in the funhouse (Der er kommunister i lysthuset) — Language: Danish
The motherland is bleeding — Source: Turkey
The rooster sang to you yesterday — Source: Puerto Rico
Satan's waterfall — Language: English
Defrosting the steak (Descongelar el Bistec) — Language: Russian
Blood Festival (血祭り) — Language: Japanese
Santa Claus has come — Source: Romania
The red Ferrari is here — Source: Netherlands
Monthly oil change — Source: Hungary
The day of pushing flowers (Kukintapäivä) — Language: Finnish
Arrival of Matthew Perry (ペリー来航) — Language: Japanese (It was important to me to figure out what Chandler from Friends did to earn this, so I looked up the origin for this one — turns out I’m a bad history student. The Matthew Perry in question is actually the Commodore of the U.S. Navy who forced Japan into opening trading with the US in 1853. This was extremely disruptive to Japanese society, and caused a huge shift in its history. I’m starting to understand the metaphor now.)
Periods are still an uncomfortable topic of conversation for many — all these different words and phrases are proof of the taboo that still surrounds the subject. What’s important to acknowledge is that being embarrassed or ashamed of periods is a learned behavior, whether you have a period or not.
Having a period is a totally normal thing that over half the world’s population will experience, so everybody should be educated about them. While it can definitely be fun to see how many different ways people can describe periods (Strawberry week?? So cute!), we should remember that menstruation isn’t a topic that should be danced around.
Getting comfortable with talking about periods might not seem like a big deal, but the period taboo has a direct impact on period poverty and accessibility to products people need to manage their menstruation.
Still, many people prefer using period euphemisms for cultural or religious reasons, and that’s valid. Getting comfortable with periods doesn’t mean you have to detail your flow to everyone you meet, if that’s not what *you’re* comfortable with. And at its core, using a euphemism for menstruation does mean you’re talking about it, even indirectly. What we can control is the context for our conversations about periods. Are we continuing to stigmatize them? Are we using these phrases to encourage especially young people to hide their periods? We all have a part to play in dismantling the taboo!
What unique euphemisms (say that five times fast) for menstruation have you heard? Share them with us in the comments.
Toni Brannagan is a writer and was the former Copy and Content Manager at Thinx.
by Toni Brannagan