‘Grey’s Anatomy’: Ellen Pompeo Describes the 1 Surprising Word ABC Did Not Allow the Actors To Say on Television

Grey’s Anatomy Season 17 premiered on Thursday night with Ellen Pompeo as surgeon Meredith Grey, and it was as shocking as ever. The jaw-dropping ending brought back a beloved character. When Pompeo joined Jimmy Kimmel Live to discuss the ending, she told the host about the one word ABC would not let them say. It might surprise you.

[Spoiler alert: The Grey’s Anatomy Season 17 premiere and episode 3.]

'Grey's Anatomy' star Ellen Pompeo and host Jimmy Kimmel
‘Grey’s Anatomy’ star Ellen Pompeo and host Jimmy Kimmel | Randy Holmes via Getty Images

‘Grey’s Anatomy’ star Ellen Pompeo talks about that ‘shocking’ ending

During the Grey’s Anatomy Season 17 premiere, Meredith Grey is found unconscious in the parking lot. While she is out, she sees her deceased husband, Derek Shepherd (Patrick Dempsey), on the beach. Fans were ecstatic to see her reunite with McDreamy but worried about Meredith’s fate. 

In the scenes from the next episode, viewers are relieved to see Meredith alive, but in a hospital bed as they figure out what’s wrong with her. Many fans guess that she has COVID-19; however, the preview does not confirm that diagnosis. She falls unconscious again during the trailer, and McDreamy appears in a second episode. 

When discussing the dramatic ending with Jimmy Kimmel, Meredith hints that she might be in a coma for some of the season. 

Pompeo talks about the one word ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ actors are not allowed to say

As the host transitions away from the “jaw-dropping” ending to the season premiere, an odd story is brought up. Pompeo tells Kimmel about the time that ABC standards and practices would not allow the actors to say the word “vagina,” on Grey’s Anatomy

“There was a big fight. I may be butchering this story,” Pompeo begins. “There was a big fight. With standards and practices, you can say penis. You can say penis, but you couldn’t say vagina. So that’s where the term ‘va-jay-jay’ came up. Standards and practices would not let us say vagina. We said penis in that episode 97 times, but you can’t say vagina.” 

RELATED: ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ Star Camilla Luddington Teases Jo’s Season 17 Storyline and Fans Have a Theory

Kimmel laughs at the popularization of the word “va-jay-jay” by show creator Shonda Rhimes.

“We have ABC standards and practices to blame for va-jay-jay,” Kimmel adds. 

Who coined the term ‘va-jay-jay’?

While Oprah was the first person to say the word “va-jay-jay” on live television, Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson) popularized the slang term for the vagina. Pompeo recalled the story correctly, Shonda Rhimes had it out with ABC standards and practices for one Grey’s Anatomy episode.

Cast and crew of 'Grey's Anatomy' James Pickens Jr., Chandra Wilson, Shonda Rhimes, Kate Walsh
Cast and crew of ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ James Pickens Jr., Chandra Wilson, Shonda Rhimes, Kate Walsh | Mark Mainz/Getty Images for NAACP

“I had written an episode during the second season of Grey’s in which we used the word vagina a great many times (perhaps 11),” Rhimes told the New York Times. “Now, we’d once used the word penis 17 times in a single episode, and no one blinked. But with ‘vagina,’ the good folks at broadcast standards and practices blinked over and over and over. I think no one is comfortable experiencing the female anatomy out loud — which is a shame considering our anatomy is half the population.”

While she was disappointed that they could not say “vagina” in the episode, Rhimes is happy with how “va-jay-jay” became popularized.

“Now, va-jay-jay’s just a given for me,” Rhimes continued. “It’s a word I use, a word my female friends use, a word I’ve heard women in the grocery store use. I don’t even think about where it came from anymore. It doesn’t belong to me or anyone at the show. It belongs to all women.”