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Origin and significance of the term "yiff"

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This article is a collaboration between Rakuen Growlithe and Christiaan Ferret.

When it comes to the furry fandom, we have many unique neologisms, including words such as fursona and the phrase pawing off, which have varying levels of acceptance in the fandom. Perhaps one of the most well-known is the term yiff, which is even understood by some non-furs. Generally accepted as a substitute for sexual activity, and able to be used as a verb, noun or adjective, it is now less accepted than in the past.

Commenting on the closure of ychan, Yiffy International and 420furs.org, Flayrah contributor Sonious remarked that yiff had not aged well. Shortly afterwards, Christiaan Ferret's defence of the word as a part of furry culture brought forth comments such as...

Though to me "yiff" will always just be a corny slang term that makes me cringe slightly everytime I hear it spoken aloud haha.

And...

I find the word annoying and needlessly cutesy, and I don't have the respect for it to study its etymology. It's just a really dumb word to me, and I'm afraid I can't say anything more about it. =/

However, we believe yiff has significance to the furry fandom as part of our shared culture and history. While we understand that not everyone will care for it, we do think it important to at least understand where the term came from.

Origin

Yiff first made an appearance on FurryMUCK in the early 1990's where the character littlefox (played by Foxen/Revar) invented the cute language of Foxish. The idea of a new language may have been inspired by fictitious languages in the wider sci-fi/fantasy genre (e.g. Klingon and Elvish) which form the roots of the furry fandom. Yiff was one of seven basic sounds in Foxish and was the most happy or positive and could be used as a greeting. As described by littlefox, there was also a slang term, yipp, which was rude and served as a sexual proposition. Over time yipp was replaced by yiff and the word took its current meaning.

It's not clear for how long the original meaning of yiff survived, but the Wiktionary article cites examples of yiff in a sexual context from 1997. An alternate origin for yiff - proposed, for example in comedian Mark Allen's short piece on furry sex and on Furcen's furry glossary - is that it comes from the sound that mating foxes make.

Legacy

Yiff has ensured its legacy through becoming a part of the furry lexicon. Knowledge of the term expanded beyond the fandom itself and it was co-opted by anti-furry trolls into the “Yiff in hell, furfags” meme.

In entertainment, furry comedian 2 The Ranting Gryphon produced a rant about yiffing, which now seems to be absent from his site. There was also an attempt in 2007 to create a furry musical titled Yiff! (later renamed <furReality>) which would tell the story of a fur's journey to his first convention and discovery that the person he knew online was not who they said they were. Though clips of various readings were released on YouTube in 2010, the project appears to have been abandoned.

Yiff has been a part of many sites that dealt with adult furry content, such as the aforementioned Yiffy International and its predecessors and appearing in controversial furry dating site Furfling's motto, “The place to yiff.” Perhaps the most notable site using the term was Yiffstar (The Yiffy Story Archive) which ran from 2002 to 2009 before changing its name to SoFurry to better reflect its changing ideals.

Value

Does the term yiff still have value these days? We both think it does and that alternatives do not have the same richness in meaning as yiff does. Possible alternatives are tiny sex and sexting, but they do not completely serve our purpose. Both are just as made up, but lacking in the historical and fandom value of yiff. When one uses yiff, it conveys more information than either alternative. All three signal sexual role playing, a problem that needs to be addressed if using the far more general term of roleplaying, but only yiff describes a sexual role play in a furry context.

Yiff also has fewer established connotations than common English words. Saying intercourse or coitus sounds more clinical and devoid of feeling. Perhaps a closer alternative would be fuck, but that has a very vulgar connotation and suffers from the negative stigma of swearing in general. In contrast, yiff can be read as dirty in the appropriate context or - due to its deliberately cute sound - as innocent, if required.

Conclusion

Despite what some furs may assume, the use of the term yiff is not just to be different. The term has a long history in the furry fandom and creates a connection between past, present and future furs. As a fandom-exclusive word, it also lends a sense of community to those who use it. While it may not be as popular as it once was, we believe yiff's history and context can not be adequately replaced by any word currently in use.

Comments

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"we believe yiff's history and context can not be adequately replaced by any word currently in use."
Are you suggesting that we should just force the term and meaning back to it's origin?

I do believe, meanings can change, but at the same time, I kind of think it can mean both. Though, trying to use the same word like these for "Sexual" and "Hello" could be really hard.
Trying to turn it back to only "Hello" (Or whatever it was in History) however, could piss a lot of people off who loves using the word for other alternative things apparently.

**Note: I say "Hello" because I thought it originally came from some fox saying "Hello". The plain meaning doesn't seem like a major term but I can see it spread into something major (In a simple, good way?).

Diamond_Man.exe
Alpha and Omega Movie, a "rare" diamond. :D

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No, not at all. I'm saying it's morphed into a sexual term, and that's not likely to change again, but the sexual meaning of yiff can't be replaced by any normal English word without losing some of the meaning.

The description of where it came from is so that people know. It's a big part of furry history and we were both worried that people have no idea where it came from, or even the history of the fandom itself. That's probably why some people wind up talking nonsense about the fandom, because they have no idea how it even started. I'd guess everyone on Flayrah has a much better than average knowledge on the fandom but I think to many people, furry is nothing more than art on FA. That's fine, if that's all you want but I find it sad.

For example, I recently saw a journal on SoFurry that was all excited because the user had found real, published furry books on Amazon. They were by Kyell Gold. But to me that shows a lack of knowledge of the furry fandom. Everyone on Flayrah will have see so many book reviews of published books and know that there is plenty of mainstream published furry work. We had the story about BlackTeagan being one of five nominees for an award at ComicCon. And Kyell Gold has been awarded so many Ursa Majors that he chose to stand down from this year's awards. Kyell Gold is even on SoFurry. If finding him on Amazon is a surprise it means there's no engagement in the furry community.

Edit: The other thing I forgot to mention about the origin of yiff is its age. It started in the early 1990's, making it 20-24 years old. The word is older than a large number of furs and has been part of the fandom for probably longer than most furs.

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

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I've always been a proponent of the word "yiff" (well, as a term, anyway). I'm the one who wrote the TVTropes article on the term originally; betcha didn't know that. It's useful as a term to both separate furry porn from both clean (or at least SFW) furry works and non-furry porn. I'm not so sure about it as a vague term for any sorta, kinda sexy furry thing as not defined in this piece, exactly, but I've got no feud with yiff. Admittedly, "furry porn" is okay, and has the benefit of being a bit more descriptive, but what's the fun in that?

People embarrassed by a word that is silly, cutesy and immature for describing a concept that is silly, cutesy and immature is silly and immature, if not exactly cutesy. Christ, the authors couldn't go two terms listing furry slang terms without a euphemism for masturbation, and we're embarrassed by the term "yiff"?

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I still stick by that the word hasn't aged well, and the play you mention in this article that later changed its name reflects that just as much as the YiffStar example I had.

The 'starting off as something innocent and being adapted for more lude purposes' is certainly not unique to the word yiff or to the fandom. Words get muddied sometimes, but once they do it gets harder to go back to its more innocent meaning. It's like word virginity as it were. I mean the Spanish word for black used to be innocent and just mean 'black', now if you're an English speaker using it, well you'll probably be seen as a racist if you're not a Spanish professor.

Once a word has been drug through the mud, some people just leave it there, other will wave it about despite it being muddied.

For a fandom which is at a crossroads of some only carrying about fandom intra-action and to heck with what the outsiders thing ("damn the haters") and others who hope to build bridges to the world around us to try and make those more comfortable around us so in turn we can be more comfortable around them. There is in essence some conflict between these groups, and I think the word 'yiff' is a token in that sort of struggle.

As I said, it was really the CSI episode that really killed it. Here we had a fictional character written by a non-furry use the word in such a creepy way that now most of those outside the fandom were first exposed to it in that way. Now when a furry says that word in the the general public it can squick people. In essence the word is like sex itself, some people see a normal chemical process which can be a beautiful thing while others see animalistic urges which cause people to do heinous things to others. It is a matter of perspective, which really comes from one's experience with the act.

Was the first time you heard the word 'yiff' from CSI or from some random guy on Second Life who asked you for it before even talking about the weather (which is probably Cloudy with a chance of Mario), you probably won't look on the world as favorably as you would if you were exposed to it when it meant 'hello'.

While yes, having a historical grasp of wording is important, a word's survival is not determined by the previous generations decrying the word is "not that bad", but whether the next generation chooses to use it. And if it's anything history has taught me about the youth. They won't do what you want them to. And going back to the fact that that play changed its name and SoFurry thing, it's not looking in the word's favor.

But fear not, for it's just a word. Even if two generations down the road it dies, furries will probably be fascinated with whatever new lexicon fascinates them at that particular time. Words are sometimes but words, and sometimes we give them more importance than they actually have.

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See, this, I just feel like it's more uncomfort at what the word means than the word itself.

It seems Orwellian; now we can say "We don't yiff anymore." It doesn't mean we haven't stopped masturbating to fetish porn/having fetishistic sex with each other; it just means "We don't say yiff anymore."

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I just don't agree that you can read that from the name changes. I don't think either change had anything to do with the word ageing poorly. Many plays/games/movies etc start with a production name which is later changed for the final release. They are called working titles or production titles. So the change from Yiff! to <furReality> as it neared completion is not surprising or even meaningful.

In the case of Yiffstar it was that the title no longer reflected the site. Remember, Yiffstar stood for Yiffy Story Archive. At the point where it had changed its name, Yiffstar had already started hosting artwork and (I think) audio submissions and was no longer exclusively yiffy. It was moving to become a community platform and the old name was no longer an accurate reflection about what the site was about.

Perhaps CSI had something to do with it but I really doubt it. Perhaps it's because I think the drama about the episode was completely over the top and misguided but also because I'm not sure why one would fixate on the term. Fursuits, cons and furries were also displayed in as creepy a manner but you aren't arguing that they have been killed by CSI. I think you're just taking that they seem to have coincided to mean that the one caused the other even that wasn't the case for any of the other material referenced in the show.

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

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You're right that it may not have been directly caused by CSI, however, it has not stopped actual furries from using it as it was in that show. Talking about casual, and most of the time thoughtless, sex (The SL point shouldn't be overlooked).

Not everyone's cup of tea, as I've said. And if it isn't one's cup of tea, they probably aren't going to be using the word anyway.

The reason the word yiff is controversial is because sex is controversial. Nothing any one individual can do to change that.

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Now when a furry says that word in the the general public it can squick people.

I don't exactly know how to break it to you, but you'd probably still do that either way.

Furry Pariah

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People are easily squick-able that's true. The people who interestingly get more squicked are the furries who, probably don't mind the word, but know its meaning and thus think that everyone around them does as well.

During the dance competition in MFF 2011 one contestant did a monologue prior to his turn. It was short, and I can't remember it word for word, but it did contain the phrase "I'm feeling yiffy". There were some awkward groans amongst the audience. At the end of the dance, when the judges were given their turn to speak the predominate critique (visa vii Simon Cowell) of the group stated that, 'it's sometimes best to just let the dance do the talking'.

Whether he would have said that had the word yiff had been said or not, I cannot discern.

What I do know is that 'yiff' as any other word has meaning. Some are still living in the word's past when one could use it as a 'code word' for sex and say it freely and feel awesome that they could talk about sex without fear of the stigma and consequences of talking about it in a public sphere. However, in the 25 years of its existence, somehow the general public has cracked that 'code'. So no, it's no longer a word that you can use to talk about sex and remove society's stigma about the act and feeling of awkwardness of those about you on the conversation.

As long as one goes in knowing that, it's fine. There are those that know the stigma of the word and frankly don't care.

But if it is a furry goal to talk about sex and stuff in the public sphere without the stigma I think there are those in the scientific, sociological, and even the gay movement segments who are doing a better job. Treating sex like a word that needs another word to skirt the topic is not getting the general public used to the topic, it's highlighting we're trying to find words that try to dodge that feeling of awkwardness which makes it seem like it's all the more awkward.

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Fixed an error where <furReality>'s name messed up the html tags.

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

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This seems roughly similar to the arguments of those who are trying to rehabilitate the swastika to its original non-Nazi meaning of a Buddhist good-luck symbol, or just a meaning-free design element.

Fred Patten

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How so? I don't think anyone has suggested going back to the original meaning. We've just said the word is still important and not just something people use to be different.

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

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Breakin' Godwin's law a bit early here aren't we?

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jesus dick how did you come to that conclusion?

Furry Pariah

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Simple. Reference the furry flame wars on YouTube back in the 2000s. As to the issue today, all you have to do is look at sites like Furry4Life, which promote a wholesome, mainstream image of the fandom. Many of the Cons, including Anthrocon have vigorously worked to present a fun, wholesame picture of the fandom. As to the other view, there are no shortage of sexually explicite sites. Even FA, which promotes itself as the largest site in the fandom has clamped down hard in recent years, at least partially to maintain a positive public image. Still, FA has no shortage of adult comment. There has been a great deal of criticism of Inkbunny, for it's permissive attitude toward cub art.
As to the evolution of SoFurry, go back to when it happened; the statements made regarding that are well documented.

When we lose the right to be different, we lose the ability to be free

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I don't think there is anyone who is trying to make the word "yiff" a greeting again, but even if taht were so, I don't think that it would be in any way comparable to the stigma of Nazi imagery for Christ's sake.

Furry Pariah

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I think a lot of the ambivalence and controversy go to a fundamental schism in the furry community; that is 'great divide'. For years, and I mean MANY years, there has been an undercurrent of warring factions in the furry community. On the one hand, there is the yiffy community, who embrace the hard partying, too much is never enough aspect of the fandom. They embrace sex as a fundamental part of the fandom
On the other side are those who seek to mainstream the fandom. Some take this position out of sincere personal belief; other more out of a desire to give more exposure to the fandom, it's art and literature.
Even today, I know of no generally accepted substitute for "yiff" "yiffy" Yiffable" and all of it's other permutations. Beyond being just a word, yiff is an entire genre of art. This was best exemplified in the whole 'Yiffstar' controversy. Unmentioned above was that Yiffstar had a shadow site, 'Anthrostar'; identical in every way, except Anthrostar was Yiffstar with all the X rated content purged. I was never aware of any issue with the old Yiffstar site; in fact the screams were long and loud when it finally went down. Rather, the consolidation was an effort to expand the scope and appeal of the sites, as well as to announce that the new SoFurry was a more comprehensive furry website, offering art, music, and social networking, in addition to being a furry story board. The evolution of parental control devices may have contributed as well.
In the final analysis, I'm fine with the term 'yiff'. It has a rich history in the fandom, and is one of the few true universals we all share. As an adult writer, I'll admit to using 'furry porn' adult content' and a variety of other terms, but more so outside the fandom than in. Still, my writer friends and I ask each other if something is adult content.
Does ANY of this make the slightest difference? I'm not sure it does. Sex, or no sex, yiff or not, it's still the furry fandom. Our most enduring value as furs is the right to be who and what we want.

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I think people over estimate furry awareness in the general community. "Fur and Loathing" was done, what fifteen years ago? Some of today's furs weren't even born yet. In general, I'd say that the fandom is more aware of the CSI episode than the non furry community. Besides, it wasn't as offensive as 'Dr. Phil' and 'My Strange Obsession'.
And what's with coded sex talk? In general furries aren't a bashful lot, but there's always context. I'm a fairly 'out' fur, but I seldom talk about the fandom unless there's a specific reason. Why would we be making sexual references to strangers anyway? I write adult material, so most of my friends are comfortable with ribald conversations. I am aware that many artists who do adult furry works are neither furry, nor interested in furry sex; it's just something they do to make a buck.
As to the dancer; I guess he/she was caught up in the moment. Best not to talk sex with judges, regardless of WHAT they may be judging.

When we lose the right to be different, we lose the ability to be free

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Wow. It was actually 11 years ago. I had no idea it was so old.

I don't understand what Sonious is talking about with code words. Yiff wasn't meant as a code so you discuss sex in public. It is just a way for furs to talk about furry sex amongst themselves. I'd say it does remove stigma with talking about sex because it's not charged with all sorts of connotations from the outside world.

Edit: As an aside but partially on topic. Has anyone noticed Flayrah still uses Yiffstar's logo for the SoFurry link?

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

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I so want this sentence:

"I don't understand what Sonious is talking about with code words."

To cross the river of:

"Yiff wasn't meant as a code so you discuss sex in public."

And meet up with:

"It is just a way for furs to talk about furry sex amongst themselves. I'd say it does remove stigma with talking about sex because it's not charged with all sorts of connotations from the outside world."

Because you don't have to be Alan Turing to understand what a code is, and to see that this enigma has been shattered.

But let me build that bridge regardless. A code is a tool used to for two individuals or groups to communicate in an area where they wish for only themselves to understand while outsiders do not have any clue what the individuals or groups or are talking about (in other words "amongst themselves").

Now of course you could mean "amongst themselves" on the internet, I'm thinking of more as a word in a spoken public one instead of a written on on a page.

However, your belief that yiff has less connotation from the outside word than 'sex' shows that indeed there is this perception that using the word is less harmful than using any of the other similar words. That can be fine if it gives one a self-esteem boost on how to broach a subject. It doesn't help when they believe that it makes it appropriate to talk about when it still is not.

Going back to the MFF example, do you think the contestant would have said "I'm feeling horny!" in front of all those people? I think most in the fandom would feel it odd. However, somehow "I'm feeling yiffy!" was felt as fine by the speaker.

"But yiffy is more fun than horny and there isn't anything he could have said otherwise."

How about "I'm feeling frisky?"

"Oh... yeah that word."

There are many words that are synonymous with sex as with an word dealing around a base activity such as eating, sleeping, and the like. We didn't reinvent the wheel here. However, I will concede that when it comes to describing "furry porn" or "furry sex", yiff is fine in that regard, and it's not surprising it has stuck around for that use. The reason being is that the phrases it replace is multiple syllables. When something you talk about happens on a frequent basis it's going to get shorthanded to one or two syllables. That's why all names have shorthands:

"Hi, my name is Jonathan."

"Oh, hi Jon."

TL;DR: If one is using the term 'yiff' as a short hand to describe furry porn of furry sex that is fine as it serves a linguistically purpose of making it less exhaustive to talk about (because saying "furry porn" over and over can really wear you down). On the other hand if they're using it because they think it makes it safer to talk about in venues where talking about porn or sex itself would not be then that is a misconception. yiff is a subset of sexual expression and as such it has the same social rules and connotations that sexual expression has.

However in the end I suppose yiff is a bit better than if we made the neologism "furnication" or "furnicating" or to "furnicate". Which is about as creative as our other neologisms get.

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Well let's point out that those are not the same meaning of code. There is a difference between a word that is chosen specifically to prevent outsiders from understanding and a word that is used in a certain group. Yiff is used by furs in the fandom but is not used so that non-furs don't know we're talking about sex.

I'm not entirely sure I know what your dancer saying yiff is meant to illustrate. The word has fewer negative connotations, which I think we agree on. It doesn't get used outside of the fandom so there is no baggage coming in from other groups. That doesn't mean its fine to use in any situation. Obviously talking about sex at an event like that is not appropriate, regardless of what word or metaphor you use. I see your example as someone with a poor guess as to what's appropriate in that setting rather than any failing on the part of the word. Frisky may be more socially acceptable than yiff but it would be wrong to say "I'm feeling frisky" before a dance at a funeral. The word has very little stigma but the topic is inappropriate in the situation.

But when I look at your TL;DR it seems like we do agree, which is perhaps why I find your post confusing. I never mentioned using yiff as a way to talk about sex in public and I'm not aware of that being the case.

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

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I remember that in the late 1990s, TygerCowboy (or his boyfriend Spike?) had a shirt with "GOT YIFF?" on it. A clever bit of communication in that non-furries (at the time) would've had no idea what it meant, and if a furry saw it, the sentence was without context and therefore semantically vague. "GOT SEX/PORN/CUM?" etc. So if anyone tried to call them out on it, a different meaning could be claimed. Still, at the time, I thought it was a bit crass.

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Mild nitpick from someone who was there: the reference to "Foxen/Revan" makes me suspect you're relaying something second (or even third) hand and got a couple details slightly fuzzed. There were two separate characters, "Foxen" and "Revar" (not "Revan"), played by the same player. While I'm not positive, I'm fairly sure the original "yiff" in Foxish came from the character Foxen.

I'm down with fannish jargon (except when it appears in furry stories that are otherwise making a bid to be taken seriously, but that's a whole different rant), but I confess this one has always induced at least a bit of a sigh from me. I'm not sure what it says about our fandom that we insist on having our own jargon for "have sex."

- Chipotle

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It's like Eskimos and snow! Anyway, lots of communities have their own dirty slang.

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Name corrected.

Furries aren't the only fandom to have their own word for sex. I find it amusing that bronies came up with their own word for it, "clop".

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It's all secondary and tertiary sources. I use Foxen/Revar (Did I mistype originally?) as I'm not 100% clear as to which takes precedence. The character that started Foxish was apparently littlefox. According to Wikifur littlefox was played by Foxen but on the only given reference the person claiming to have played littlefox goes by Revar. Furs do change their names and these things are not particularly well documented. If you have other references then that could be useful.

I don't think having a word for "have sex" says anything about us. Different fandoms, nationalities and cultures all have their own words for things. Sex is just one of those things. I don't see it as special in any way. As Mwalimu says, Bronies say clop, we say yiff and there are many other slang words and euphemisms like naai (Afrikaans slang), screw, bone, etc.

"If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
~John Stuart Mill~

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About the author

Rakuen Growlitheread storiescontact (login required)

a student and Growlithe (Pokemon) from South Africa, interested in science, anime and power metal

I'm a fur from South Africa who got into the fandom through my interest in pokemon, still a major part of my involvement, and writing fanfiction, though now I also try my hand at art from time to time. Outside of furry and the aforementioned subjects I'm interested in science, anime (and am learning Japanese) and power metal.

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