We're Going to Ruin the Eggplant Emoji for You Now
Unless you're into penis fractures.
In the six years since Apple added it to its standard emoji keyboard, the eggplant has gone from an innocuous vegetable to America's favorite shorthand for a throbbing cock. By 2015, the year emoji regulator Unicode admitted the eggplant's connotations to itself, a study showed that of a billion emojis sent worldwide, a million were eggplants, mostly sent in the US and Canada for raunchy reasons. Cultural critics have spent gobs of time puzzling out why a C-list veg, with no previous erotic connotations in American pop culture, rapidly took on this tinge. Unknown to most of them, and likely to most who sexualized the fruit, in one medical discipline eggplants were associated with dicks pre-2011. But the connection was (and is) so horrific that today some doctors are utterly bewildered by the eggplant's current prevalence in horny "u up?" texts.
An "eggplant deformity" is, in urological circles, a sign of a penile fracture, which is even worse than it sounds. During sex, masturbation, or freak accidents, a penis can bend so forcefully that the sheath around one or both of the spongy tubes holding the blood creating an erection tears, audibly and painfully, resulting in rapid flaccidity. The blood released often pools inside the battered cock, causing bulbous purple-black swelling that makes it look more like an eggplant than when it's happily erect. If the tear is severe enough, a patient may piss blood as well.
Specialists in urban centers only see one or two fractures a month, so they're rare even if they are likely underreported due to shame, and steps can be taken to minimize risk. They're easily fixed by a one-hour procedure and two months of penile rest. Barring delayed treatment, side effects like long-term pain or permanent curvature are rare. So it's always been a marginal issue. Boston urologist Robert Hartman notes that a penile fracture did appear on Grey's Anatomy in 2009, but eggplant deformities didn't come up. That term didn't gain mass media recognition until Hartman put a (NSFW) photo of the deformity in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2015. (It's been mentioned in subsequent tabloid coverage of inexplicably prominent penile fracture cases.)
For anyone without knowledge of this medical context, urologist Ryan P. Terlecki of Wake Forest Baptist Health gets why the eggplant was a good eroticization candidate. "If you look through the standard emojis on the iPhone, the eggplant [a skinny Asian variety versus the fat ones often found in the US] is the most phallic… The banana has an associated peel and the cucumber is already cut in slices," he says.
Still, adds Benjamin L. Cooper of the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, "I do find it horribly ironic that the eggplant is used as a symbol for an erection when in fact the eggplant deformity is… a broken erection, a fractured penis that has completely detumesced." (That's un-hardened, for the non-urologists.)
Hartman wonders if the eggplant emojis could generate awareness of penile fractures. "If an emoji is capable of social awareness and behavioral modification," he says, "then long live the eggplant." But Cooper and Terlecki think the community using the term "eggplant deformity" is so small that few emoji users will learn of it, even when it does make the papers. And its sexual meaning is so widely established that, even if they do, their views and use of the fruit likely won't change.
For the few Americans who built their first dick-eggplant associations in med school pre-emoji, or for young doctors encountering the deformity on a regular basis, though, the emoji will always carry a cringe-worthy irony. "I love the idea of a student sending what he thinks is a forward… borderline sex-pest 'let's hook up' text to a [medical] student," says Gavin Lucas, a British emoji authority, "not realizing that the text could be interpreted very, very differently."
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