Cleavage, Cleavage, Cleavage

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Photo via Wikipedia.  Yes, cleavage has its own Wiki page.

My bosom, which played a solid supporting role in the long-running dramas of mating and motherhood, is in genteel retirement these days, appearing mainly as visual balance for the ever-swelling regions below my waist. Actually, my boobs, too, seem to be getting bigger and bigger, in inverse proportion to their practical usefulness. My rapid and seemingly inevitable expansion recalls the plight of Violet Beauregarde at the end of her visit to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Perhaps the Oompa Loompas can do something for me, since the South Beach Diet and apparently can’t.

During my ten-year marriage to a jealous man, my cleavage was very important and highly charged, in fact the focus of an ongoing dispute. My husband felt I should not wear outfits that put it on display. I felt I should not discard two-thirds of my wardrobe. Perhaps his fear of the mighty power of cleavage was the reason for his preference (casually, perhaps accidentally, mentioned to me one day) for “champagne glass”-sized breasts. Apparently, this is a thing: the old-fashioned, saucer-shaped kind, not the flutes.  

Did I mention my ex-husband once wrote an op-ed in praise of the burqa?

After we split up, I hauled my plunging necklines out of mothballs and over my head with a vengeance. Scoop necks wall-to-wall. I’ll show you.

Surprisingly enough, the public re-appearance of my cleavage did not lead immediately to an orgy. In fact now, some six years later, I sometimes don’t even remember it conveys erotic intent. Sometimes it slips my mind that I even have cleavage, or that it’s showing, until I see a photo of myself looking mildly inappropriate at some professional or school event. What was I thinking? Perhaps I was thinking of becoming one of those older ladies who live in Florida or Arizona, my zaftig bazooms deeply tanned and leathery, my neck and wrists and fingers encircled with clunky gold and diamond jewelry, all gifts from my adoring third husband, Irving.

Oh, Irving, wherefore art thou? My intermammary cleft is under-attended, visited only by a dachshund snout. For none but my little dog cleaves to my cleavage.

Which raises an interesting point. The word cleave means two opposite things: both to split, and to loyally adhere. According to various lexicographic sites on the internet, this is because the word cleave is a contronym, as are sanction, dust, seed, and many more — words that mean both one thing and its opposite. Google it, you’ll see.

And sarcasm makes contronyms everywhere, even of love. Like I said, I just loved it when my ex-husband told me what to wear. And yet I cleaved to him until we cleaved in two, he off to York Springs, Pennsylvania and me to The City That Reads. Note: this nickname was coined by ex-mayor Kurt Schmoke, who just became president of the University of Baltimore, where I work. Coincidence? I think not.

Now if my cleavage would just get back to work and find me a man, a nice big fat one, a long tall shiny one, a sweet-smelling hairy one with all his parts in working order, or most of them, anyway, you’d see some cleaving like you wouldn’t believe. Because what my ex-husband didn’t get (and from this distance, it’s more sad than enraging) is that I’m a cleaving machine. Loyal to the point of stupidity, really. As much as Beaver and Wally and June and Ward, as much as that big sharp knife on your counter, I was born to cleave. Show me a steak, I’ll show you two.

And my ever-deepening cleavage was born to breathe free, even at the courthouse or the university convocation. Haven’t seen it yet? Well, you will.


Marion Winik

Marion Winik

University of Baltimore Professor Marion Winik writes Bohemian Rhapsody on the first Wednesday of the month. She is the author of "First Comes Love," and, forthcoming in fall 2018, "The Baltimore Book of the Dead." She is the host of The Weekly Reader on WYPR. Sign up for her monthly email at
Marion Winik

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  1. Favorite (one of many) Seinfeld moment:

    Jerry to George: “You can’t stare at cleavage! It’s like the sun — you look once, then you look away!”

    And love contronyms, too (“sanction” is another one), which are not only a fascinating linguistic phenomenon, but perfectly suited to your humor, hon!

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