An SM Vocabulary Lesson
Issue 48, 2001
Human cultures generally develop their
own language and customs. Leather-dom is
no exception. As I wrote last week, the
words we use, appropriated from our common
American English, often have a connotation
different from that more often found in
the general population.
It would be interesting to find out if
our non-American kinky friends have developed
a vocabulary more precise than ours. I suspect
that whether they have or not depends on
the general preciseness of their mother
Last week I wrote about two words that
cause much confusion: boy and slave.
In general Leather parlance, boy is a term
of affection denoting someone, male or female,
in a relationship with someone considered
more responsible, namely a Daddy, who may
or may not be male, older, or more dominant.
I have struggled for years to write more
precisely about boys, but suitable words
escape me, mostly because that relationship
is, by design, quite varied among its practitioners.
So you can see that our application of the
word is different than that found in our
The word is also used for those who are
considered slaves, which, contrary to the
supposed meaning of that word, wrongly implies
that the person is in a nonconsensual relationship
controlled by another, usually called Master,
Mistress, Dom or Domme. A more reasonable
appellation is "voluntary servitude,"
since service is the most striking hallmark
of the relationship and, as this is Leather,
it is always consensual and therefore voluntary.
So you can see that calling a slave "boy"
totally deviates from the true definition
of his or her relationship. It would be
paramount to calling a Master "Daddy,"
something which I would think many Masters
would not condone. Nevertheless, there are
times when even the most hard-ass Master
calls his slave "boy" without
in anyway implying that the slave is anything
like a boy in the Daddy-boy sense of the
There you have perhaps the best example
of how very confusing our misuse of language
is and how it can distort the true meaning
of our relationships. Most of us understand
the various (and many) meanings that the
words imply, so for us there is less difficulty.
For those not yet attuned to the nuances
of our speech the sorting of all this can
be quite a task.
Another example is that the Master/slave
relationship is often codified by a contract,
which has no legal standing but which can
give meaning and clarity to the partners.
Contracts are usually legally binding so
to have a non-binding contract is somewhat
of an oxymoron. On the other hand it adds
psychological and emotional depth to the
relationship, even if our courts don't recognize
the reality. This is how a sub-culture has
to exist within a larger, and generally
Another loaded word, is protocols, which
are ways of acting within our sub-culture.
Contrary to popular opinion, most protocols
are highly individualistic. In fact the
most common of them are not protocols but
simply rules of polite behavior and were
adopted merely to insure that we all act
"nice" in the dungeon.
The more rigid protocols are those enforced
in the Master/slave relationship. Because
that relationship is generally more intense
and certainly more structured than most
SM relationships, these protocols have more
impact, but only on the two people in the
relationship. On the other hand, protocols
vary a great deal from Master to Master,
as each likes things done his or her way.
The confusion over protocols arises because
too many think that protocols are carved
in granite, especially the protocols they
want enforced. In reality, Leatherfolk are,
and should be, too individualistic to ever
have one size fits all when it comes to
protocols. When it comes to manners, on
the other hand, we probably ought to have
them and have them all the time.
Two other concepts often confused in our
speech are discipline and punishment. For
those interested in masochistic activity,
spanking, whipping, and flogging provide
great attraction. Discipline, then, is the
engagement in such activity, for the sake
of the activity itself and the eroticism
it provides. In that way it deviates substantially
from punishment, which often looks the same
but in fact feels different in that it lacks
eroticism and has correction or atonement,
rather than pleasure, as its goal. That
being the case one might discipline his
lover and punish her slave. Two distinct
actions that on their face look the same
but differ radically. I doubt one could
get away with punishing his or her lover.
There are whole group of words that lie
along a continuum between Dominance and
Control and their complements Submission
and Surrender. Once again, appearances are
deceptive. Some activities have the superficial
look of dominance, when in fact they are
simply a fetish. A person can whip another
with neither control nor domination being
part of the scenario. After all we are going
to assume consensual activity. Hence, simply
flogging a person in no way implies whether
you or (s)he is generally a top or bottom.
Most players, being versatile, fall into
the mid-range of the dominance/submission
continuum. That being the case, we could
line them up in a bell curve from Dominant,
top, pushy bottom, versatile, service top,
passive bottom, and slave. Note here the
seeming discrepancy in that pushy bottoms
fall on the controlling side, while tops
whose goals are to make their bottoms feel
good fall more on the submissive side. Now
you know why we find Leather language so
Many kinky folk find a great deal of pleasure
in either inflicting or receiving pain.
Here we need to make the important distinction
between pain and injury. We are out to make
people feel good, not hurt them. Likewise
masochists take no pleasure in non-erotic
injuries, such as stubbing one's toe or
having a tooth ache.
As Karl Jung points out, there is great
value in having a rich fantasy life in as
much as fantasy cultivates the imagination,
which in turn brings creativity into our
minds. Inventions, after all, have to be
first thought of before they can be patented.
Likewise good scenes take imagination and
forethought. There is, though, a not so
fine line here in that one needs to distinguish
fantasy from reality. Reality is, after
all, ever present and a hallmark of healthy
living. We might also want to draw a distinction
between fantasy and lying. Doing so might
go a long way to making the Internet a better
place to cruise.
OK, we often assume "scene names"
so as to protect our identities. I admit
to being Jack Rinella, even if it's not
the name given me by my parents when I was
born. Here we can understand the need for
discretion. I will simply say that my nom-de-plume
puts me into the same category (I hope)
as Mark Twain.
On the other hand, there is a difference
between discretion and falsehood. Just as
there are degrees of information that have
various levels of publication, so to speak,
various people have varying needs and rights
to know the truth. Whereas a casual acquaintance
or an everyday reader of my column might
have no need to know my real name, a person
with whom I become more intimate might have
good reason for knowing a great deal more
truth about me.
There's nothing, per se, wrong with a closet.
There is no reason to flaunt every fact
and facet of our lives. The challenge is
to know when discretion is called for and
when it is not. Likewise there is a difference
between being careful and being paranoid.
In most instances, researching the facts
and understanding risks makes the distinctions
obvious and the best mode of acting clear.
In all of these cases, learning the vocabulary
and appreciating their underlying meanings
will make all of us better players and more
2001 by Jack Rinella. This material may not be copied in
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