“Any phrase that includes ‘butterfly’ or ‘unicorn'” – 15 Mistakes To Avoid When Choosing A BDSM Safe Word

Subs Say The Funniest Things

You know how it goes. You’re attending that excruciatingly dull, semi-obligatory neighborhood party, sipping on that not-quite-premier brand scotch and checking your watch every six minutes to calculate the point at which it becomes acceptable, under the currently operative social algorithm, to politely slip away, when somebody suggests, as an alternative to Pictionary, devoting the rest of the night to BDSM play. And before you know it, you’re wearing nothing but a leather hood, handcuffs, and nipple clamps, and your hostess, who is taking a few practice strokes with her crop, is asking you for your safe word.1 Well, Bunkie, if you haven’t thought through that answer already, it’s a little late once she straps that ball gag in your mouth.

And, ones safe word is, after all, an important choice in ensuring a good time — but not too good a time — being had by all; as the old saying has it,

It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.
Then, it’s just fun.

So, as yet another public service, AllanShowalter.com2 presents

Observations On A Sub’s Suboptimal Safe Words


1. Cognitive dissonance can be problematic. For example, using “More, More, Harder, Harder,” “Green Light,” or “Yes! Yes! Yes!” as a safe word may prove sufficiently confusing to cause a transient but uncomfortable delay in the desired cessation of festivities.

2. Homographs are iffy. Your more exacting Doms won’t find “You say tomato, I say tomato” all that amusing.

3. Likewise, homonyms (e.g., plays on “bear” the burden and “bare” your ass) can be tricky. I reference Master Murphy’s Law: Any safe words that can be confused will be confused and its corollary: “Momentary confusion” takes on a entirely different meaning when the “momentary” part occurs during a flogging.

4. Multi-syllabic, sesquipedalian words, especially those of the sort most often found in medical or scientific literature or novelty books about word play are not ideal. Even if you can routinely recall such monstrosities as these:

  • floccinaucinihilipilification
  • hepaticocholangiocholecystenterostomies
  • Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis

It’s showing off, and – trust me on this – nobody likes a smartass sub.

5. Safe words that aren’t words (e.g., “833646520034”) fall into the same category as #4.

6. While dramatic and emphatic, exclamations such as “Ouch,” “Damn, that hurts,” and “What the heck do you think you’re doing?” can be misunderstood.

7. The subjunctive mood (e.g., “It’s as though I can’t take any more” or “I wish it would quit hurting”) is typically inappropriate for ones safe word.

8. ” Prince-symbol ” It didn’t work for Prince and it won’t work for you.

9. Invoking deities (e.g., “What would Jesus do?”) or traditional figures of respect (“Does your mother know what you’re doing?”) is simply unsportsmanlike and will be dealt with severely.

10. AAAA (“Assiduously Avoid Acronyms, Asshole”). “NGSCB” may mean “Next-Generation Secure Computing Base,” to you, but does your Dom know that?

11. Think twice before choosing tricky proper names (for example, names of towns such as Unalakleet, Alaska or Prem Nagar, India and especially those vowel-deficient designations of Welsh villages such as Cwmtwrch). A good rule of thumb(screw) is – if you can’t grunt the safe word intelligibly with a gag in your mouth, then it’s not really safe, is it?

12. Employing disparaging terminology, say something on the line of “Is that the best you can do, Mistress?” and “You’re such a wuss, Master,” is just asking for trouble (aka the adding injury to insult phenomenon).3  And, “You hit like a girl” adds a layer of gender related cultural confusion that will seldom work to your benefit.

13. Some words and terms just don’t fit the context. For example,

  • “Hamiltonian-Federalist Jeffersonian-Republican Alignment”
  • “Willing suspension of disbelief”
  • “Bernoulli’s Principle”
  • Any phrase that includes “butterfly” or “unicorn”
  • Any words arranged in the form of a rhyming couplet
  • Almost all scripture from the New Testament (yes, even the modern translations)

14. While “Marry me,” “Put a ring on it,” and similar demands may indeed halt the action as well as precipitate a general detumescence, they are wrong on so many levels.

15. “Fuck You, Master” is a safe word probably best left to very experienced, hard core players.


Related Posts:

Quiz: Wrestling Submission Hold or Sex Toy?

Note: Originally posted June 2, 2006 at 1HeckOfAGuy.com, a predecessor of AllanShowalter.com


  1. “Safe word” and “safeword” are both acceptable formats – if you’re the Dom and that’s what you want. Also, a “safe word” can be, and usually is, a phrase rather than a single word. []
  2. Where else are you going to find advice on renting automobiles, a serial love story, poetry used in detective novels, considerations of all kinds of squid, updates on the Kaavya Viswanathan story, notes on treatment compliance, recipes for dishwasher cooking, and kink technique? []
  3. Handy memory aid: Taunts are for Tops; Begging is for Bottoms []

4 thoughts on ““Any phrase that includes ‘butterfly’ or ‘unicorn'” – 15 Mistakes To Avoid When Choosing A BDSM Safe Word

  1. Thanks for the info. I hadn’t put much thought into it but now I think that Houston would be a great safe word, as in Houston we have a problem.

    1. Well, from what I know about you after all these years, I can easily believe that a safe word would be superfluous for you.

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