This week, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) is out with its latest update. Among its crop of over 600 new words, phrases, and senses, some sweary entries flashed us the come-to-bed eyes on Strong Language—and we don’t mean continental grip, dead rubber, or additions to the many meaning of come, as suggestive as they may sound. From mild abuses to sexual euphemisms to derogatory slang, we’ve got the highlights here.
Back in January 2016, a Montana businessman named Greg Gianforte tweeted a photo of himself standing next to the window of a small-town shop called Kickin’ Ass Hat Company.
— Greg Gianforte (@gianforte) January 31, 2016
(Thanks to Dan Hon for the retweet yesterday.)
At the time, Gianforte, a Republican who’d made his fortune in California, was a candidate for governor of Montana. He lost that election in November, but immediately began running for the state’s single Congressional seat. The election is being held today.
Yesterday, however, Gianforte aggressively confronted Ben Jacobs, a reporter for The Guardian who’d been asking the candidate about health-care policy — and who’d written a story about Gianforte’s Russian investments.
Long an admirer of Joseph Mitchell, I take his portrait of A. S. Colborne and his Anti-Profanity League as iconic, though, as the trail of news Colborne left behind him proves, Mitchell’s view was partial and misleading. Colborne was by no means the only American anti-profanity campaigner, and the fact that he wasn’t alone, that anti-profanity activism persists in America today, supports profanity’s expressive power — a vestige of taboo keeps strong language strong. As it turns out, a little anti-profanity goes a long way.
Prompted by my first post about Colborne, Patrick Collins searched Chronicling America and commented on several other anti-profanity movements. Some were charmingly local, others of regional, if not national, scope. Among the former, in Leesburg, Ohio — as reported in The Highland Weekly News (13 December 1882) — “An anti-swearing league ha[d] been formed among the boys of the village.” A few years later — as reported in the The Omaha Daily Bee (21 June 1886) — the Commercial Travelers’ Protective Association placed anti-profanity placards in hotels and restaurants, for the public good, of course, but also to curb the sweary impulses of those very commercial travelers — the motive was less moral than a matter of public relations.
Ah, the joys of live television. MSNBC unexpectedly aired a fine example of unexpurgated profanity when political strategist Rick Wilson appeared on “The Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell” Thursday night. O’Donnell asked Wilson about Republican members of Congress who are optimistically whispering about the possibility of Vice President Mike Pence assuming the presidency. Wilson said:
Well, a lot of those guys right now, you know, are in that category where they’re still supporting Trump publicly because they feel like they have to. They’re afraid of the mean tweet. They’re afraid of Donald Trump going crazy, you know, ripshit bonkers on them.
Here are some of the things I’ve seen characterized as a shitshow (or a shit show) during the last 115 days:
- A Q-and-A session involving the ride-hailing company Uber
- The British Labour Party
- The British rail system
- The Long Island Rail Road
- The New York restaurant Tavern on the Green
- The Fyre Festival
- College basketball
- Chicago Cubs baseball
- The Facebook page of Congressman Eric Paulsen, Republican of Minnesota
- Australian internet
- The U.S. healthcare system
- President Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey
- Trump’s on-camera interview with NBC news anchor Lester Holt about the Comey firing
- American democracy
Go back just a little further and we have late-night host John Oliver’s “Clowntown Fuck-the-World Shitshow 2016” (March 2016); fellow late-night host Samantha Bee’s “most deranged electoral shit show in a generation” (February 2016) and “Shit Show the Musical” (à propos the presidential inauguration); and Michael Moore’s “My friends, this … is … a shit show” (also à propos the inauguration, at :55 in the video). In the March 2016 issue of the Atlantic Jeffrey Goldberg reported that President Obama privately called the situation in Libya a shit show. (In public, he called it a “mess.”)
And that’s very far from a comprehensive list. It’s enough to make one agree with this sentiment from @hugetiny in Austin, Texas:
@tgrochowicz To be fair we’re in bit of a shitshow renaissance, the rules are changing daily
— Patrick V Barrett (@hugetiny) May 12, 2017