Do the two meanings of 'adult' never give rise to misunderstandings in US culture?

I understand the adjective ‘adult’, in addition of the meaning ‘pertaining to grown-up people’, also is widespread as an euphemism for ‘pertaining to pornography’ (particularly in the US - I believe the usage is somewhat different in other English-speaking countries).

Naively I’d think this might give rise to misunderstandings - e.g. if I did not know otherwise I’d think an adult bookstore was one without a children’s section. Also a web site about retirement planning is obviously an adult web site.

Does US culture adroitly avoid such misunderstandings?

Generally, you would not have something labeled “Adult” if it was not using the related to pornography meaning. But not always, once told my wife that it would be nice to get the kids in bed, so we could turn off the kid’s shows and put on some adult movie. No not that kind, something aimed for grown-ups. Although I would have been up for the other kind too.

It’s usually pretty easy to differentiate from the context.

There are situations online where it frequently results in confusion, and it’s given me a headache from time to time.

A game or a community (often within a game) may advertise itself as “adult” or “mature” and intend it to mean that the members are expected to act like adults. However, many of the players take the opposite meaning and believe it gives them free reign to be foul-mouthed and otherwise be incredibly juvenile. It’s amazing how immature some people will act simply because “we’re all adults here.”

In the world of librarianship, there are people called “Adult Librarian”, who provide services to adult library users. These libraries would not have “adult books” in the commoner sense of that term.

I still don’t know what “Adult Swim” means though.

Well I’d hope so. Otherwise that would be SICK.

It happens at a real pool. It’s when the kids have to leave so the adults can swim in peace. Since they have them at public pools, I don’t think its pornographic.

The actual TV thing? Let me look. Wiki says “The name comes from a phrase used by public swimming pools to label designated times when children are restricted from using the facilities in favor of adults.” Looks like I was right.

I was asked to write a short magazine article about board games a few years ago and the editor questioned my use of “adult games.” I had to revise the text to explain what that meant, so as to differentiate between Candy Land and Risk or whatever, and not to mean strip poker. It seemed to me that it was clear enough. I already had explained party games like Apples to Apples, because that seemed to need a definition.

I’m a little confused as to whether “adults only” resorts means no kids, or everyone is naked.

I think they use “clothing optional” for the latter.

One can use the term “grown-up” instead of “adult” to avoid confusion. It can sound a bit childish (since it’s children who are most likely to call adults “grown-ups”), but if someone said “I’m sick of Disney, I need to watch a grown-up movie” it would be clear that they meant they wanted to see a movie targeted at more mature viewers. “I need to watch an adult movie” would be fairly clear in context, but could be misinterpreted as “I need to watch a pornographic movie.”

This is one of my pet peeves. For the pornographical and sexual contexts, I wish people would use the perfectly-good word ‘erotic’ instead of ‘adult’ or ‘exotic’.

But that’s not euphemistic enough for our Puritanical ears!

Amen to that. Sometimes, it’s absolutely necessary.

Yeah, sometimes I have to explain to people that the “Adult Fiction” section is “as opposed to Juvenile Fiction”, not porn. (I don’t know why we don’t just say “Fiction” - we used to, and then they changed it for some weird tech services reason.)

And the thing is, ‘adult’ can mean anything which is not clildlike. An ‘adult movie’ could be all about …bookkeeping and the terrors of tax time, for example. Or the terrors of Auschwitz. Basically, things that kids don’t understand, or that can really twist them up.

tschild, what is the comparable usage in German? Is a pornographic bookstore simply called a pornographic bookstore, or is there some other euphemism (besides “adult”) that Germans use?

Two anecdotes here.

In our family room, we have two large, built-in bookshelves. One shelf is full of the videos, toys, and games used by our kids (and now our grandkids). The other shelf had books and videos for the grown-ups. When we remodeled, my wife packed the materials into a set of boxes, one labeled “Videos”, and the other “Adult Videos”.

We laughed about it, but since the boxes were in our basement, it didn’t matter.

We finished the remodeling and stored the boxes. This summer, my wife and daughters put on a big garage sale. Imagine my horror when I came home to find two large boxes in the driveway, prominently labeled, “Adult Videos”. I expressed my dismay and my wife said she would cover them up the next day.

I came home that night to see that all she had done was to draw a line through the words. I am really glad she didn’t put “Kid Videos” on the other boxes.

Also, several years ago, I worked for a Christian fundraising organization. This group was responsible for raising money to support the distribution of a Christian film. The film was available in different versions, one for children, and one for adults.

We were using Microsoft Outlook for our email, and did not have an effective spam filter, since our email provider did not really have a good filter. The best I could do was turn on Outlook’s display options to mark messages in color based on rules. Outlook had some rule that colored items in red if the messages contained words in their Naughty list, so I turned on that feature for my colleagues.

Imagine our chagrin when most of our email was highlighted in red because nearly every email included the phrase “Adult Movies”.

It was at that time that we realized this was probably why a lot of our email was not getting through when we sent it. When I left, they were still trying to figure out a good way to say “movies for adults” without getting caught in other people’s spam filters.

As others have said, it is usually clear from the context and the thing that the word “adult” is being used to describe. For example, it’s safe to assume that an adult bookstore sells porn while adult swim just means that the kids have to get out of the pool for a while.

One of the ways we can differentiate in a case like this is saying “for adults.” As in “an article about games for adults” vs. an article about “adult games.” The former implies only that the games aren’t for kids and the latter can imply that the games have erotic elements.

But I did get caught misunderstanding the way the word was used the other day. I was at work idly browsing a soap-making website. I was looking at the different categories of soap molds, like “guest soaps” and “animal shapes.” There was a category called “adult molds.” I assumed that adult molds were just ovals or rectangles–you know, boring shapes that adults would prefer. Well, it took me to a page telling me that I had to be 18 to continue! Oops. (Boring oval soap molds were in the section called “geometric molds.”)
That said, I find it really irksome that “adult” is so often used as a euphemism for erotic or pornographic. It tends to reinforce the idea that everything in America should be “family friendly.” So many people balk at the notion of an adults-only event or even a restaurant where it’s simply not appropriate to bring children. (Except for the rare children who can be counted on to behave themselves in a fine dining atmosphere.) I love kids, and I love being around kids, but I like grown-up-only stuff too!