18

For example, in this review of the movie Unknown, Mark Kermode refers to Liam Neeson's character's wife as being played by "X-Men's pneumatic January Jones".

I'm never quite sure whether this refers to her attitude, her physique, a particular aspect of her physique, or something else. I don't think I've ever seen the word used to describe a man. Any suggestions?

2
  • 10
    Read Aldous Huxley's Brave New World for more on this.
    – Jimi Oke
    Jul 17, 2011 at 12:31
  • Literally it means inflated with air. You can guess which part of her anatomy appears to be inflated.
    – Hot Licks
    Aug 14, 2015 at 18:54

5 Answers 5

26

When a female is described as pneumatic it means she has large breasts (possibly artificially augmented by plastic surgery).

To my mind, there's also the implication of her being both well-equipped and possibly available for bouncy bouncy / mattress dancing (slang euphemisms for sexual intercourse).

Per @z7sg's answer and @Jimi Oke's comment, Aldous Huxley particularly favoured the word, using it no less than 15 times in Brave New World! (less than half have any sexual connotation though - the majority are pneumatic chairs/sofas/shoes/etc.) Huxley's usage, which strikes me as somewhat bizarre, seems only loosely related to the standard meaning today.

The modern (sexist, to my ear) usage may have started with T.S. Eliot's Uncorseted, her friendly bust / Gives promise of pneumatic bliss (Whispers of Immortality, 1920). Over a hundred years earlier, and still sometimes today, the pneumatic body has been used to mean spiritual body which would be resurrected (as opposed to corporeal body which decays after death - see 1 Cor. 15:44).

I've never heard the term applied to a man, but if I did come across it, I wouldn't infer any sexual or spiritual conotations - I'd just assume it meant someone who looked a bit like the Michelin Man.

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  • 1
    +1 for conflating (OK, juxtposing — couldn't resist) Eliot's high-toned drollery with everyday strip-club speech.
    – Robusto
    Jul 17, 2011 at 14:04
  • ... juxtaposing ... Stupid fingers on stupid keyboard typing stupid letters.
    – Robusto
    Jul 17, 2011 at 14:38
  • 1
    Ah, but even spelt correctly, juxtaposing usually implies only two correlated concepts. I had the high and low-toned sexual references plus the ineffably more spiritual spiritual connotation from St Paul! Jul 17, 2011 at 14:44
  • Yes, but I only referenced two of your references. In any set of n members where n > 2, two may be in a juxtapositional relationship with each other at any given time, irrespective of any relationships with other set members.
    – Robusto
    Jul 17, 2011 at 14:48
  • 1
    Perhaps the equivalent term for a man would be hydraulic.
    – Beta
    Jun 16, 2016 at 22:26
17

There is a precedent for the usage of the word pneumatic to describe the desirable female character Lenina Crowne in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.

"Lenina Crowne?" said Henry Foster, echoing the Assistant Predestinator's question as he zipped up his trousers. "Oh, she's a splendid girl. Wonderfully pneumatic. I'm surprised you haven't had her."

In describing Lenina, pneumatic means well-rounded, curvy, and bouncy, in the sexual sense of the word.

"Every one says I'm awfully pneumatic," said Lenina reflectively, patting her own legs.

Before this it was used by T.S. Eliot in the poem Whispers of Immortality, conveying the sensual pleasure of a woman's bosom.

Grishkin is nice: her
Russian eye is underlined for emphasis;
Uncorseted, her friendly bust
Gives promise of pneumatic bliss.

5
  • Brave New World is exactly what I thought of when I read the question title; Huxley seems to love the word.
    – Reid
    Jul 17, 2011 at 19:35
  • @Reid Yes he does, and his frequent use of the word has often been remarked upon by BNW-ophiles bravenewworldpr.blogspot.com/2011/02/pneumatic.html
    – z7sg Ѫ
    Jul 17, 2011 at 20:46
  • I also remember reading this in Brave New World specifically. Jul 18, 2011 at 2:44
  • @Jeff Atwood: I'm not surprised you remember! He used the word fifteen times in one book! Jul 18, 2011 at 3:10
  • 3
    I believe Huxley consciously invented it as a piece of slang for his sci-fi world; as Burgess did in A Clockwork Orange, but on a smaller scale. It's for the reader to interpret, but I never saw it as curvy/bouncy, but more lithe and well muscled, the better to make repetitive vigorous mechanical movements, like a pneumatic drill.
    – slim
    Dec 13, 2011 at 11:27
6

Without looking at an image of the woman, and without knowing the X-Men reference, I would say the lady is full-breasted.

The implication is that the figure has an inflated appearance -- hence the word 'pneumatic'.

I have seen the word used that way before ... but I'm not sure it has been used to describe a man.

2
  • Perhaps I was being a little coy, and I should have said full-breasted [edited now]. Who knows what Hollywood make-up artists could do with an X-Men character. Besides, Mark Kermode might think so.
    – pavium
    Jul 17, 2011 at 12:10
  • I've deleted my comment as it simply didn't make sense in the wake of your edit :)
    – Andy F
    Jul 18, 2011 at 6:22
1

I always interpreted Lenina's line in a more explicitly sexual way, given the context. My first thought was pneumatic tube systems and the suction involved in making them work. "Pneumatic" refers to pressurized gas systems. I did just look it up just now though and found another usage I was unaware of, "of or relating to the spirit". Maybe that's what she meant. They did have a lot of sex in that utopian world!

0

containing or operated by air or gas under pressure

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