The British police drama Broadchurch can be gritty, uncompromising and bleak, but rarely sweary. Despite the grim events that rock the small coastal town, whole episodes pass without any strong language other than the occasional expletive shit or bloody hell. By the time that Cath Atwood gets coarse in S03E05, it’s because her husband and best friend’s affair has truly fucked her up:
The tweet was widely shared, including by the writer William Gibson, who was so enamored with the phrase “a bee’s dick” that he incorporated it into a new post-Charlottesville rallying cry: “Tolerate not even a bee’s dick of white supremacy.”
My recent post on how a particularly obscene paragraph ended up on a local sports page inspired me to go back to a post I wrote in 2015, “When Shit Hits the Newspapers.” In it, I mentioned the enticing prospect that bullshit might have appeared in an American newspaper a few decades before that word started showing up in the writings of such luminaries as T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound.
Slang lexicographer Jonathan Lighter noted on the American Dialect Society mailing list back in 2008 that there is a mention of a stage-robber in Las Vegas, New Mexico, named John “Bull Shit Jack” Pierce in Doc Holliday: the Life and Legend by Gary L. Roberts. Roberts seems to cite an 1881 issue of the Las Vegas Daily Optic on this point. Now that the Optic from that year has been scanned and digitized, it’s possible to check. Sadly, there is no “Bull Shit Jack” to be found, but the expurgated versions that did appear in newspapers of the era leave little doubt as to what his nickname actually was.
For Deadspin, Jeff Pearlman has written a remarkable piece, “The Fallout From Sportswriting’s Filthiest Fuck-Up.” Pearlman dives deep into the story of how an incredibly obscene paragraph managed to get slipped into a sports article in the Gallatin (Tenn.) News Examiner in 1997. In the middle of an otherwise routine item on the local high school soccer team comes this shocker:
Dixon sucks donkey dicks and doesn’t wipe the shit off before practice. We like to keep him at the sweeper position so his sperm breath will stop people from penetrating to the goal. Speaking of penetrating, he prefers tall, red-headed guys. Told me to tell Kris he said ‘hello.’
In the two years since I first wrote about seeing “AF” — the abbreviation for the intensifier “as fuck” — in various interesting places, I’ve kept track of its spread from the fringes to the mainstream, or at least a major tributary of the mainstream, of popular culture. In April of this year, when I noted its use in New York subway advertisements by the food-delivery service FoodKick, I speculated that this was the first time AF had appeared in a commercial context. Well, I was wrong. It wasn’t the first. And it certainly hasn’t been the last.