Once upon a time, advertising copywriters could seize your attention with words like FREE and SALE and GUARANTEED OR YOUR MONEY BACK. Now they vie to see who can nudge closest to actual expletives without going full Tucker. Over the last couple of years we’ve seen “abso-booking-lutely” and “Look at the booking view!” from Booking.com, in which “booking” substitutes for “fucking”; “Ship my pants!” from supposedly family-friendly Kmart, in which “ship” sounds very much like “shit”; “half-fast Internet” from Verizon (“half-assed”—get it?); “Go fun yourself” from Toyota Europe; “Go fork yourself” from Bravo TV; and “I take a sheet in the pool” from Sheets Energy Strips (I think you can figure out the last three).
And the trend keeps trending. Here are some recent examples:Adobe, the multinational software company, ran this full-page ad in the New York Times business section on April 7:
“THIS IS BULL SHEET!”
As I noted in my own blog, Fritinancy: “Bull sheet is defined in the small type as ‘tedious paperwork’; sheet is meant to be a punning reference to paper.”
Also in April, the technology retailer NewEgg ran this ad from chipmaker AMD in rotation on the homepage:
“This is FXing Serious.” Thanks to Jonathon Owen (@ArrantPedantry) for bringing the ad to my attention.
FX is the family name for a line of AMD processors. It’s unclear how, or even whether, the headline is meant to be pronounced—“eff-ex-ing serious”? “fuxing serious”?—but the allusion to “fucking” is unmistakable.
I spotted this billboard for Thumbtack, a “marketplace for skilled professionals,” in San Francisco in May:
“We have a shiatsu-load of masseuses.”
Shiatsu—a Japanese form of pressure-point massage—has three syllables, and isn’t close enough to single-syllable shit to create a wholly successful pun on shitload. And the line takes too much time and effort to decode when you’re zooming past it on the freeway (just out of frame to the left). I for one kept mis-reading “masseuses” as “mattresses.”
Speaking of X-loads, DraftKings, the fantasy-sports site, has been running TV spots in which a fellow in a loud checked sportcoat seals the deal with “Best of all, you could win a shipload of money!”
Linguist Arnold Zwicky wrote in his blog that
The shipload of money (for shitload of money) on DraftKings is a phonologically-based euphemistic avoidance, a very ostentatious one in fact, similar to the use of booking for fucking in the Booking.com ad…
But shipload is also a legitimate word, defined by MerriamWebster.com as “as much or as many as will fill a ship” or “an indefinitely large number.” It’s synonymous with boatload (a word DraftKings substituted in some versions of the ad).
Edgy? Attention getting? Puerile? Frankly, my dear …
T-shirt via Saks Off Fifth, the discount outlet owned by upscale retailer Saks Fifth Avenue.