Don’t MEWL On Me!

On the Threshold, Edmund Leighton

Lately I’ve indulged in escape reading, primarily Regency romance. In the past, I’ve read a few of this subgenre but in the last couple of months, it’s been a book a day. This is me refueling for my next phase of writing.

But what I wanted to say is, please, STOP using pat words/phrases like ‘come apart’ and ‘carnal’ and especially ‘mewl.’

Oh my god. Mewl. Do writers using this word not understand that the first definition of ‘mewl’ is that it’s the sound of a baby? As in, “cry feebly or querulously; whimper.” Or of a cat or bird?

From Merriam-Webster: Mewl: to utter feeble plaintive cries. Eg, The tiny kitten mewled for its mother.

Synonyms of mewl: bleat, pule, whimper

Words Related to mewl: fuss, sniffle, snivel, snuffle, whine, peep, squeak, mumble, murmur, mutter, groan, moan, sigh, aaaand you get the idea.

Granted, when writing about sex and the sounds, smells, and other details involved, it’s difficult to make it ‘new,’ especially in a subgenre like Regency where women are supposed to be virgins taken utterly by surprise at the sensation of sexual activity. One could argue that mewling like a baby or kitten is exactly the best way to describe her reaction when big strong hero man sticks his tongue in her mouth. Or elsewhere.

It’s just that after x-number of books with ‘mewl’ in key passages, one can hardly suppress the urge to vomit.

As for ‘carnal,’ well, yes, it’s a useful word in portraying the mindset of women of those times. The meaning of it sums up the idea a woman might possess about something she’s been taught to fear and repress. It neatly describes sexual needs and activities. But hey, how about giving readers a break? Here are some useful synonyms: sexual, sensual, erotic, lustful, lascivious, libidinous, lecherous, licentious, physical, bodily, corporeal, and fleshly.

I admit that the first four in that list, at least, would hardly occur to a sexual novice during a time when one must not use the word ‘leg’ or ‘breast’ in referring even to a roasted chicken, but rather must use the more delicate term ‘limb’ or ‘white meat.’

Then there’s the phrase ‘claim her mouth.’ Maybe the first few times I read this, I’m thinking Sylvia Day before she priced herself out of my range, the phrase held power to excite. After all, in claiming her mouth, the hero stakes out his territory and the reader knows seduction is underway. But time after time as it’s been overused, any power that this phrase might have had has long since been lost. How about seize, demand, require, win, or take? Or something else entirely.

  • But he didn’t move lower in his kisses, instead coming back up to thoroughly claim her mouth.
  • It was only a matter of inches before he could bend his head and claim her mouthwith his.
  • Eyes intense, he leaned in to claim her mouth, one hand at her nape, the other supporting her shoulder as he eased onto the bed to stretch his length, their bodies touching at breast and hip.
  • She shivered when he trailed kisses down the side of her neck, then back up to claim her mouth
  • She had broken out in a fine sweat; he licked it from between her breasts and her throat, working his way up to claim her mouthin a kiss as heavy and demanding as the ridge of flesh he pressed against her hip.

But I repeat myself.

As for “come apart,” I’d like to point out that this metaphorical concept of a woman totally losing it in the throes of orgasm is, at first, a reasonable use of language. But after years of overuse? Shall I demonstrate?

  • That night when he’d held her and she’d come apart in his arms.
  • Need pulsed through him, sending blood screaming to his groin, but he held back, wanting to feel her come apart in his arms, to watch as she gave herself over to his complete control.
  • Nothing was more important at that moment than seeing her come apart in his arms.
  • She wanted to come apart in his arms, and let him be the one who put all the shattered pieces together again.
  • Unable to look away, she pictured him in the McDaniel’s stables, touching her, making her come apart in his arms.
  • And as he took her like a man possessed, and she started to come apart in his arms, his name a keening cry on her lips, his only thought was that he had finally come home.

And so forth.

While I’m on this rant, let me also say I’m just as guilty as the next writer in using worn-out phrases and words. In the heat of writing the scene, it’s a real challenge to think beyond what happens next. It’s later, under the cold eye of our internal editor, that we must cross out the tired stuff and think of something new. That’s as much a part of our job as thinking up the story in the first place. Otherwise, we’re boring our readers. Or making them nauseous.

At best, writers reliant on these and many more familiar phrases routinely used in sex scenes hope the reader is so caught up in the story, in these characters finally – despite all odds – able to satisfy the desire that has been hovering over them since the opening pages of the novel, that mere word choice hardly registers. For many readers, this surely must be true. Yet how many readers come to ‘mewl’ and can’t stop themselves from throwing the book across the room?

For now, I’ll try really hard to refrain from remarking on his ‘cut muscle’ or ‘sculpted muscle’ or her inevitable ‘swoon.’ We already know these men have scent of leather and, variously, pine, soap, shaving soap about their person, or taste of salt. That his shoulders barely clear the door frame. That he towers over her and her hands twist in her lap.

I’m not the first or the last who will comment on the unique language of romance novels. Well, hardly unique in reality, but perhaps unique in the broader world of literature. There are books, I tell you, entire books on this subject. An internet search also turns up useful word-usage blog posts.

From a blog post in 2015, “The Most Ridiculous Sexual Phrases from Romance Novels” written of course by a guy. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/06/16/romance-novel-phrases_n_7545244.html

A great way to expand your sexy vocabulary is presented by blogger Sharla Rae in her Sensual Word Menu: https://writersinthestorm.wordpress.com/2011/06/10/sensual-word-menu-2/ What a fabulous resource! Thank you Sharla!

So go out there, make your characters suffer and whine, but PLEASE don’t make them mewl.

And–before I forget–READ OTHER GENRES.  There are entire libraries full of other books, all of them making fabulous use of all 26 letters.

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