Near the end of "The Princess Bride," a despondent Buttercup is about to commit suicide with a dagger. But Westley stays her hand when he suddenly pipes up from a nearby bed:

"There's a shortage of perfect breasts in this world. It would be a pity to damage yours."

By "breasts" is he referring to her chest as a whole, which men also possess, or to her mammary glands in particular?

I've always assumed he meant her chest as a whole. For one thing, Buttercup placed the dagger dead center, not in such a way that either gland would be directly damaged when she thrust home. For another thing, it seems unutterably crass to be commenting on one's true love's tits at such a time.

But on the other hand, in American English at least, the word "breast" is used far more often to refer to the mammary glands than to the chest-as-a-whole.

  • 7
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is an English language comprehension question. I can't imagine any English native would not understand this scene.
    – Tetsujin
    Jun 18 '19 at 7:36
  • @Tetsujin amazing enough I was just about to comment on that, explaining my (and possibly others) downvote here. Also, come on.... it's crystal clear what a man refers to when he says "breasts" in such context. Jun 18 '19 at 7:37
  • @Tetsujin I understand the scene fine, but the language is ambiguous. No one else seems to find it as ambiguous as I do, though.
    – Sean
    Jun 18 '19 at 14:56
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    Inconceivable! ;)
    – Tetsujin
    Jun 18 '19 at 15:09

I didn't actually think that this particular scene could be understood in any other way....

The Scene in Question

And the Line

Westley: ...There's a shortage of perfect breasts in this world...

From context alone, I find it nearly impossible to understand how one could be confused by this line....

But we can at least have a look at the definition and incorrect concept that 'breast' is used colloquially significantly differently in different english speaking regions.

From Oxford Dictionary:

  1. Either of the two soft, protruding organs on the upper front of a woman's body which secrete milk after childbirth.

  2. A person's chest, especially when regarded as the seat of the emotions.

And a third little tidbit:

The English word breast derives from the Old English word brēost (breast, bosom) from Proto-Germanic breustam (breast), from the Proto-Indo-European base bhreus– (to swell, to sprout).[4] The breast spelling conforms to the Scottish and North English dialectal pronunciations.[5] The Merriam-Webster Dictionary states that "Middle English brest, [comes] from Old English brēost; akin to Old High German brust..., Old Irish brú [belly], [and] Russian bryukho"; the first known usage of the term was before the 12th century.

The word breast as in, bosom, or mammary glands has a seemingly long history in many languages, with nearly the same pronunciation and spelling for nearly a thousand years...and continues on to this day, in all English speaking regions, and apparently western germanic linguistic family groups...at the minimum.

From Webster:

  1. The fore part of the body, between the neck and the belly; the chest; as, the >breast of a man or of a horse.
  2. Either one of the protuberant glands, situated on the front of the chest or >thorax in the female of man and of some other mammalia, in which milk is secreted >for the nourishment of the young; a mamma; a teat.

The meaning of 'breast' as a singular can be slightly confusing assuming the context is missing entirely.

However our film scene is extremely obvious as to what the meaning of breasts can only be. Not only did Westley say breast in the plural "breasts", Buttercup is a woman with breasts about to stab herself, and Westley is quite obviously sexually attracted to her. To consider that he cares about her chest, compared to her breasts is...surprising at most. (This should be a little funny of course)

It is certainly the mammary gland breast that is intended to be understood.

  • This is nonsense. Firstly, the etymological history of the word "breast" is irrelevant. Secondly, the plural of the word is appropriate regardless of how many of the body parts Buttercup possesses. If she had been about to stab herself in the stomach, would he say "There's a shortage of perfect belly in the world"? No, he'd say "bellies," and this situation is exactly analogous.
    – Sean
    Jun 18 '19 at 5:25
  • The devil is in the details apparently. Jun 18 '19 at 6:51

I've always assumed he meant her chest as a whole.

Not in this instance.

Despite the knife placement Westley is referring to her mammary glands....it's tongue-in-cheek....I dare say "cheeky" humour.

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