Tender Buttons


Like Stein's syntax of poems in the book, the title juxtaposes two familiar concepts to alienate their familiar meanings. Rather than use an expected collocate, Stein frequently associates two familiar but independent ideas in order to challenge their established authenticity. Many of the titles of the individual poems likewise use similar juxtapositions: "Glazed Glitter", "A Piece of Coffee", etc.

While the word "tender" and the word "buttons" are two ordinary words in the sense that they both have familiar meanings to the average reader, their displacement from a usual context and their subsequent synthesis ruptures a usual understanding of their meanings and implications. By displacing these words into an unfamiliar context, Stein challenges the reader's notion of what these words actually mean. In establishing the phrase, "tender buttons", as the title of the series, Stein defines her series of poems to be both familiar and foreign in their context.

The title of Tender Buttons can likewise be interpreted to suggest a singular, static moment of time that is free of the implications of space. The title, like the poems, exists in a space that is independent of the implications of a certain time, and in this sense, is one reason for the collection's timelessness.

Like the other poems in the book, the title can likewise be interpreted in a number of ways. Some have suggested that "tender buttons" reference a woman's breasts, in part because of the title's French translation to "les boutons tendres", which is slang for nipples.[4] Although a more contemporary reaction to the poem stated, "The title Tender Buttons, of course, refers to a woman's nipples", Stein does not divulge the inspiration behind the title, simply stating, "Tender Buttons, will be the title of the book".[5][6]

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