mental masturbation

Joanne M. Despres jdespres at MERRIAM-WEBSTER.COM
Thu Sep 19 21:45:21 UTC 2002

> the use of "mental masturbation" to deride or dismiss certain
> activities is interesting in several ways: in its, ahem, embodiment
> of strongly negative cultural attitudes towards the practice
> (attitudes that have, on occasion, occasioned moral panics, not to
> mention considerable individual unhappiness and the resignation of
> a U.S. Surgeon General), and also in the linguistic status of the
> expression, which, it seems to me, is almost perfectly balanced on
> the edge between mere figurative extension and the sort of
> conventionalized usage that would merit listing in a dictionary.
> comments, lexicographers?

The phrase would have to be attested more than a couple of times
to get into the Collegiate.  I've checked our files and found only one
cite for "mental masturbation," from a 1922 source.  There were
also a couple of cites for "spiritual masturbation" and one for
"verbal masturbation" from the 1950s.  More recently, though, the
cites in our files have consistently reflected the purely sexual
sense of "masturbation."  We'd need a lot more evidence than what
we have for the extended sense to be considered.

On the other hand, C10 does give an extended non-physical sense
of the adjective masturbatory:  "excessively self-absorbed or self-

Joanne Despres

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