"That time of the month"The most common phrases used in North America to avoid explicitly talking about menstruation are “that time of the month”, “aunt flo”, “shark week” and (even more unfortunately) “on the rag”. However, it is estimated that there are over 5000 different terms globally, —demonstrating that the stigma surrounding menstruation is not an issue localized to any one part of the world.
Perpetuating StigmaIt is estimated that over 78% of menstruators use euphemisms rather than the word “period”—a euphemism itself for menstruation. The use of these terms is also in part caused by our socialization around bleeding and menstruation.
Young people feel the need to hide menstrual hygiene products up their sleeves when going to the bathroom and to refrain from discussing their periods openly. This is because many school systems separate the boys from the girls when giving the often-brief menstruation lesson.
According to BodyForm UK, 72% of boys never been taught about the menstrual cycle, leaving many of them to fear and misunderstand the process. This encourages ignorant comments and perceptions that contribute to 90% of girls being anxious about attending school during their periods.
The stigma around periods is ingrained in young people through lack of education and our veiled treatment of this normal biological process.
Humourous or Problematic?Some of the nicknames are clever or humourous, while others are more blatant in aligning menstruation with illness.
6 such euphemisms include:
“There are communists in the funhouse.”
This is a phrase often used in Denmark as the colour red was a symbol of communism. Therefore, it is speculated that this originated to say that something red and cruel is getting in the way of something fun.
- "Granny’s stuck in traffic.”
This euphemism is used in South Africa, occasionally with the variation that Granny is coming in a red car. This variation makes the link to menstruation slightly clearer.
In Germany they say this, and with the colour of strawberries it’s not hard to understand why!
“I’m with Chico.”
This phrase is used in Brazil in reference to Chico Mendes, an activist that was murdered in the 1980’s at a time where many activists were being killed.
“Mad cow disease.”
This euphemism is used in Finland, and although not usually used with harmful intentions, it relates menstruation, a natural and healthy bodily function, to an incurable and deadly illness.
One phrase in India specifically translates to being untouchable. This is one of the most harmful euphemisms; directly increasing stigma and pushing forward the idea of menstruation being undesirable and unclean.
The perpetuation of these codes and fears of open dialogue about how our bodies function emphasizes the fact that we still very much view periods as something shameful. This makes it more difficult to promote positive change such as paid menstrual leaves and greater discussion and knowledge of our own individual cycles. This discomfort translates to medical professionals, increasing the challenges we face around receiving proper diagnoses and treatment for menstrual disorders.
This isn’t to say don’t ever use another euphemism, because being comfortable with expressing your experience and needs around your menstrual cycle is extremely important. However, it is also helpful to understand the ways in which stigma is perpetuated and the harm that it can cause.
So, if you are looking to become more comfortable with your period, one great step could be helping to phase out euphemisms. Instead empower yourself to use words like “menstruation” or “period” the next time “that time of the month” comes around!
- Calderwood, I. (2017, November 22). 12 of the weirdest and worst euphemisms for the word “period.” Global Citizen. https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/weird-period-euphemisms-around-the-world/
- “Why UK Girls Are Missing School due to Their Periods.” Www.bodyform.co.uk, www.bodyform.co.uk/break-taboos/our-world/fear-going-to-school-less/.
- O’Connor, Roisin. “There Are More than 5,000 Ways to Say ‘period’ around the World - These Are the Best Ones.” The Independent, 1 Mar. 2016, www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/menstruation-study-finds-over-5-000-slang-terms-for-period-a6905021.html.
- “Talking about Periods: An International Investigation Findings.” Helloclue.com, helloclue.com/articles/culture/talking-about-periods-an-international-investigation-findings.