When a cigar isn't just a cigar

We awoke yesterday to discover that someone had graffitied the road outside. 

At first it was hard to make out.

Closer inspection revealed that it was, indeed, a 'spunking knob', as Charlie Brooker so aptly names this ubiquitous symbol. Actually, he's worth quoting in full on the subject:

'The rudest imagery appeared in schools – scrawled in the margins of exercise books. That iconic schoolboy's doodle – the puerile "spunking knob" – how did we know what that looked like? It's like a cave painting symbolising not fertility, but gleeful stupidity; an image hard-wired into the mind of every sniggering boy in Britain. Everyone smiles inside when they see the spunking knob scrawled in the dust on the back of a van, or scribbled on a poster. Is it a global phenomenon? Strikes me as inherently British. It should've been our logo for the 2012 Olympics.'

Well, I did smile, but placed right slap bang on the runway to the local primary school others greeted its, ahem, coming with a succession of pursed lips, angry scowls and tut-tutting. Naturally it didn't survive the day.

Like many, I simply love a good double entendre. Smutty puns are one of the great delights of life, and from Carry On films to Viz Comic's Finbar Saunders to I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, they form an essential part of a very British sense of humour. It's just that when the double entendre becomes single and explicit we suddenly call it puerile and inane, a symbol of 'gleeful stupidity'. Why is that?

The double entendre is a kind of legerdemain. It allows us to laugh at sexually explicit imagery while pretending that we're laughing at the cleverness with which that imagery is insinuated. Of course the truth is we're laughing at both. A single entendre like the spunking knob breaks the rules of the game. It makes the implicit explicit, and gives us no choice but to distance ourselves by other means, usually a public display of disapproval. Ah Dr Freud - you were so right.

Interestingly, the artist Grayson Perry argues that the erect male member is one of the last great taboos, and I think he's got a point (fnarr fnarr). In his expert hands (don't!), the spunking knob has been given an altogether different twist (matron!).

No, seriously, it's become tender, vulnerable and even a little bit tragic.

Thankfully high art puts an insuperable firewall around embarrassment, one that trumps even the protective layers of the double entendre, so we can contemplate this image happy in the knowledge that there's absolutely no biology going on between our legs. None whatsoever.

What a relief! (Don't start...)


  1. Hmmm, I recently had to clean one of those off the underside of a desk in the school library I'm working at...the artist in question a young lad of 11...who cunningly (well, I guess he thought it was cunning!) signed it with another student's name! One of those occasions when you feel obliged to 'tut tut' for appearances' sake, but I really didn't care. I believe Grayson Perry is absolutely right. I remember seeing a doco a couple years ago, about how Hollywood tries to push the boundaries via shock tactics without actually getting an 'R' rating which drastically reduces audiences, and thus income. The film being being discussed sailed dangerously close to the wind not because the protagonist stops mid-coitus to go out into a nearby hallway and shoot several people in the head at point blank range (resulting in lots of glorious Hollywood gore). No, it was the faint, fleeting glimpse of...slightly, just a bit, ummm, well, not completely flaccid...male member, that got them into a tizz. Shooting people in the head...fine. Brief glimpse of a completely normal part of the male anatomy...OMG. I care about that because it just seems so completely twisted!

  2. I can vouch for this icon being global, or at least European, as I noticed once, in my teens, a French cousin and I went into a (French) maiden aunt's office - she was director of a secondary school - in her absence, and he quickly scrawled an SK on the umpteenth page of a notebook on her desk.



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