Last year we introduced a year-end roundup celebrating the best in sweary language: The Tucker Awards. The Tuckers are named after the one and only Malcolm Tucker, Peter Capaldi’s gloriously obscene character from the BBC’s political satire The Thick of It and the big-screen version In the Loop.
Let’s get started with 2016’s best moments in swearing. As Mr. Tucker would say, come the fuck in or fuck the fuck off.
Best Swearing at Twenty Fucking Sixteen
“In trying to wrap our heads around 2016’s all-reason-and-logic–defying onslaught of tragedy and absurdity, we objectified the year.” So wrote Strong Language contributor John Kelly in a Slate piece making the case that the Word of the Year for 2016 is in fact 2016. With many seeing 2016 as an unrelenting shitshow, it’s no surprise that the year itself became the prime target for obscenity. The best swearing of 2016 was also the best swearing at 2016.
As The AV Club pointed out, “Fuck 2016” became a full-fledged meme early on in the year, even before we knew quite how horribilis this annus would be. But the best incarnation of the “Fuck 2016” meme was delivered in November by John Oliver, host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight (and a winner of a 2015 Tucker). His “Fuck 2016” segment paired explosive profanity with a literal explosion, blowing the year to bits.
As a runner-up in this category, the British musical comedy duo Flo & Joan deserve recognition for their “2016 Song,” with such lyrics as “You laid an egg of solid fuck, you taint slug made of ween, you garbage bag of bum dust, you are shitty shitty 2016.” (Kory Stamper’s favorite swear word, cunting, also makes an appearance.)
Many others could merit honorable mention, such as the year-end retrospective of the San Antonio Current, which asked, “What the actual fuck, 2016?” — before calling the year “supremely shitty” and looking back at “some of the shit-tastic events of 2016.”
When we weren’t directly swearing at 2016, we were summing up the year in expressive obscenities. Sweary spoofs of dictionary publishers’ Word of the Year selections proliferated, with satirical headlines such as “Oxford Dictionaries reveal word of the year as ‘clusterfuck’” and “Merriam-Webster 2016 Word-of-the-Year: ‘Fuuuuuuuuuuck’.” When the dictionaries revealed their actual choices (post-truth from Oxford Dictionaries and surreal from Merriam-Webster), they seemed a bit staid.
Gersh Kuntzman of the New York Daily News chimed in with his own choice for Word of the Year, the Yiddish obscenity farkakt.
But the pithiest observation in this genre came from Isiah Whitlock Jr., who, as Senator Clay Davis on HBO’s The Wire, was famous for uttering “Sheeeeeeeee-it!” No surprise what Whitlock named the Official Slogan of 2016.
Best Swearing at Donald Fucking Trump
The most newsworthy swearing of 2016 came from Donald Trump’s own mouth, even though it was from a recording of a conversation from more than a decade ago. I won’t dwell on Pussygate any further here, as it has already been well-covered on Strong Language. (I wrote about it in “A Banner Day for Profanity,” and Colleen Barry and Blake Eskin followed up with “Pussy on a Hot Trump Mic” and “Watershed Moments: Donald Trump, Rakeyia Scott, and the Times.”) Rather, let’s celebrate the creative swearing that was directed at Mr. Trump.
First place in this category goes to Scottish Twitter collectively. When Trump visited Scotland right after the Brexit vote in June, he tweeted that Scotland “took their country back,” even though Scottish voters had overwhelmingly voted to remain in the European Union. The response on Twitter was an endless cavalcade of delicious insults — quite appropriate, given that (as Nancy Friedman pointed out) Scottish people have a long history of engaging in “flyting,” or the ritual exchange of insults. Here are a few gems:
But special recognition must go to Glasgow actress Jennifer Hainey, for calling Trump an “utter cockwomble” (audio available here):
Beyond Scotland, Trump inspired plenty of swearing, particularly after Election Day (as John Oliver proved above). The most incisive post-electoral commentary was provided by Tom Freeman, aka @SnoozeInBrief, who posted “An analysis of Donald Trump’s election win and the prospects for his presidency” on Medium:
Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck. Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck.
And so on. (There are even bullet points and a pie chart.)
Elsewhere on Medium, @shitHRCcantsay (a parody account featuring a foul-mouthed Hillary Clinton) offered a postmortem of the election entitled “Are You Fucking Kidding Me”:
Well, full steam ahead, America! Godspeed and go fuck yourselves.
Go fuck every last one of you fucking pasty-white testosterone-brained reality-TV-popularity-contest shitheads.
I spent my entire goddamn life fighting for women and children, and it ends today. I’m going to a motherfucking spa.
(@shitHRCcantsay’s July entry, “Let Me Remind You Fuckers Who I Am,” is also worthy of note.)
Late update: Also on Medium, Paul Stollery provided some excellent data analysis: “All the Fucks Given in 2016.” Stollery crunched the numbers on the appearance of fuck across social media and found an enormous spike after Trump was elected.
Best Fucking Swearing in Politics (U.S. Domestic)
There was plenty of American political swearing beyond Trumplandia. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (another 2015 Tucker awardee) got a taste of his own sweary medicine, according to testimony in the Bridgegate trial. Former Christie staffer Christopher Stark testified that the governor had threatened Monmouth County Freeholder John Curley, after Curley complained about Christie taking credit for recovery efforts after Superstorm Sandy in 2012. According to Stark’s testimony, Curley said of Christie, “Who does that fat fuck think he is?” Christie responded in kind: “Who the fuck do you think you are calling me a fat fuck? I’m the fucking governor of this state.” When Curley was asked about the exchange by the Asbury Park Press, he said he remembered it slightly differently. He didn’t actually call Christie “that fat fuck” — instead he called him “that fat motherfucker.” Glad that got clarified!
Maine’s Gov. Paul LePage might give Christie and his New Jersey colleagues a run for their money. After he heard that Democratic State Rep. Drew Gattine had called him a racist, LePage left him a voicemail message that was quickly leaked:
I would like to talk to you about your comments about my being a racist, you cocksucker. I want to talk to you. You want — I want you to prove that I’m a racist. I’ve spent my life helping black people and you little son of a bitch, socialist cocksucker. You — I need you to just fricking — I want you to record this and make it public because I am after you. Thank you.
Best Fucking Swearing in Politics (International)
No real contest here. The winner by a landslide is Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, whose press conferences and other public appearances have often featured a litany of obscenities in both English and Tagalog. In response to criticism of his war on drugs and the extrajudicial killings that have taken place since he took power in June, Duterte has sworn at the U.N. (“Whether there will be a thousand investigations or Ban Ki-moon comes here, I really don’t give a shit”) and the E.U. (“And then the European Union now has the gall to condemn me, I repeat it, fuck you”).
Duterte’s favorite Tagalog obscenity appears to be putang ina, which he’s used in sharp statements about both Pope Francis and President Obama. While that has often been translated as “son of a whore,” it’s not quite accurate to say that Duterte was explicitly calling either the Pope or Obama a son of a whore. As I wrote on Language Log after his Obama tirade, Duterte uses putang ina more like a sweary filler, akin to saying “Son of a bitch!” without necessarily calling someone an S.O.B.
Duterte said in October that he would no longer use obscene language — after some divine intervention. On a flight from Japan, he explained, God spoke to him, warning him that the plane would crash if he kept swearing. But Duterte apparently makes an exception to this pledge when he is doing Donald Trump impressions.
Best Fucking TV Swearing (Scripted)
Besides John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight (featured above), one reliable source of creative swearing has been another HBO show, Veep. Given that Veep was created by Armando Iannucci, who was also behind the Tucker-rific The Thick of It, this should come as no surprise. But even after Iannucci handed off showrunning duties to David Mandel for the fifth season, the sweariness kept up quite nicely.
While many characters on the show have had some wonderfully obscene moments, the very best from the past season have been from Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) during her all-too-brief presidential tenure. The zingers were sometimes terse, like her description of the Queen of England: “She’s a fucking cunt. You didn’t hear it from me.” Or they could be elaborate, as in her amazing demolition of Congresswoman Penny Nickerson in the episode, “Congressional Ball.”
You’re playing a very dangerous game of chicken with the head fucking hen. ‘Cause if I don’t win the White House, O’Brien is gonna sink your stupid boats, and you’re gonna look like a hair-sprayed asshole in your 1980s mother-of-the-bride dress. And if I do win, I will have my administration come to your shitty little district and shake it to death like a Guatemalan nanny. And then I’m gonna have the IRS crawl so far up your husband’s colon, he’s gonna wish the only thing they find is more cancer. So, can I count on your vote? Or do I need to shove a box of White House M&Ms up your stretched-out six-baby vag?
Best Fucking TV Swearing (Unscripted)
While the award-winning and culture-shifting musical Hamilton is heavily influenced by hip-hop, there’s actually not much swearing in its 20,000 words. But when Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda made an appearance on Comedy Central’s Drunk History, he got a bit more sweary in his intoxicated explication of some Hamiltonian history that didn’t make it into the play. Turns out drunk Miranda has a penchant for the word motherfucker, as noted on Broadway.com. But even when he’s inebriated, Miranda can’t help being linguistically inventive. Describing a letter about Aaron Burr that Hamilton wrote before their famous duel, Miranda said, “I don’t know if it was his genius or his fuck-you-itiveness.” Since stick-to-itiveness is a word, why not fuck-you-itiveness? Cheers to that!
Best Fucking Swearing in Print
Yes, this was the year that the holy goddamned New York Times featured the words fuck and pussy on the front page, in their coverage of Pussygate. But that momentous event in the history of printed obscenity was also a low point in the history of American politics. So instead, let’s celebrate some sweary language that was accidentally printed in a recent issue of the Mumbai Mirror.
As Mediaite observes, snafus with placeholder text are quite common in the news industry, but rarely does it get so sweary. To see some historical predecessors, see my 2015 post, “When ‘Shit’ Hits the Newspapers.”
Best Fucking Swearing on Twitter
So much of the best swearing of 2016, as seen above, has occurred within the 140-character confines of Twitter. Twitter accounts with sweary missions have proliferated, including The Fucking News (“Context and analysis of all the latest bullshit”) and Fucking Apostrophes (“A guide to show you where you can stick them”). But for obscenity in its purest form, the honor must go to Sweary McSwearbot, the most foul-mouthed Twitterbot in existence. What say you, Sweary McSwearbot?
And with a final “Fucking zombie-wobbling FUCK,” let’s bid adieu to this fucking year.