Holy Moses, Oh Jeez! Parsing the Erotic Vocabulary of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’


There are so many explanations for the worldwide phenomenon that is Fifty Shades of Grey. But among these analyses, one possibility has been overlooked: the expressive erotic language of Anastasia Steele, our “everywoman” narrator. So, as anticipation for the film builds towards a stunning climax, I took the opportunity to search through my digital edition of Fifty Shades (yes, I spent $9.99 on it) to demonstrate the narrative power of author E.L. James’ most routinely utilized vocabulary.

Much like masters of the erotic poetic tradition John Donne, Federico Garcia Lorca, or Leonard Cohen, E.L. James relishes mixing the holy and the profane with confident regularity. Perhaps she handles this contrast a bit less subtly and a bit more literally, but she does it.

Below you will see a multiple-screenshot example of how fond James is of peppering the text of her novel with phrases like “holy crap,” “holy shit,” “holy cow,” and my personal favorite, “holy Moses.” This gives Anastasia quite a recognizable voice, and it makes it very clear that she is regularly astounded by things, from paddles to pigtails.

Observe an overview of the frequency with which the word “Holy” appears in FSOG. Keep scrolling down:

Another expression that Anastasia is fond of deploying is the simple, “Oh my.” When used in juxtaposition with riding crops, vaginal beads, cunnilingus, sex at IHOP, and “firing up her Google” to send winky-face smileys to Christian, “oh my” serves a remarkably consistent function in the narrative.

It also shows us that the sort of quotidian expressions of wonder Ana is capable of are given a real workout by the “that was extraordinary” quality of Christian’s Red Room of Pain, and her adventures therein.

Clearly, Anastasia has, by book’s end, experienced many more sexual positions with Christian than she has found words to describe how she feels when she enjoys sex. So fascinating!

To conclude our survey, let us focus on another regular expression which E.L. James grants to Anastasia, a word used yet again when she’s expressing wonderment at her new, sexually charged life.

That, of course, would be “Jeez.” Now you may think that jeez is a pedestrian word, a fake curse of sorts. But let’s close-read for a moments. Jeez is a colloquialism that is short for “Jesus.” Thus, we can infer that Anastasia is pursuing her carnal pleasure with Him always in mind. Oh my.

Next time people ask you why Fifty Shades of Grey smashed worldwide sales records, answer with confidence, “Holy hell, the writing is unlike anything I’ve ever — I mean jeez. Oh my. Oh my.”