The rise of the shitgibbon

Pennsylvania state senator Daylin Leach got a lot of attention this week for a colorful expletive hurled at Donald Trump, appearing on Leach’s Facebook and Twitter feeds.

As Leach’s “fascist, loofa-faced, shit-gibbon” line made the rounds on social media, he didn’t back down from the characterization (which was inspired by reports that Trump had threatened to “destroy the career” of a Texas state senator over the civil asset forfeiture issue). His spokesman Steve Hoenstine doubled down.

The Philly Voice wondered what a “shit-gibbon” is, exactly. “A gibbon is a primate most commonly found in parts of Southeast Asia, but “s***-gibbon” looks like it’s a Scottish insult.” Indeed, shitgibbon got attached to Trump when he landed in Scotland after the Brexit vote and tweeted that Scotland “took their country back,” despite the fact that most Scots voted against leaving the EU. The outpouring of invective against Trump led Strong Language to give special recognition to Scottish Twitter in the 2016 Tucker Awards for Excellence in Swearing. But the tweet that called Trump a shitgibbon, while in the style of Scottish ritual insults (known as “flyting“), was in fact written by an Englishman who goes by the name MetalOllie (aka Hamfisted Bun Vendor).

Since MetalOllie’s tweet came out in the middle of the anti-Trump storm on Scottish Twitter, many have assumed that he too is Scottish. But as he tweeted at the time, “I just WISH I was Scottish.”

Leach’s “fascist, loofa-faced, shit-gibbon” was clearly inspired by MetalOllie’s “Cheeto-faced, ferret wearing shitgibbon” (which proved so popular you can even buy it on a mug). Shitgibbon has a lot going for it, with the same punchy meter as other Trumpian epithets popularized last summer like cockwomble, fucknugget, and jizztrumpet. (Metrically speaking, these words are compounds consisting of one element with a single stressed syllable and a second disyllabic element with a trochaic pattern, i.e., stressed-unstressed. As a metrical foot in poetry, the whole stressed-stressed-unstressed pattern is known as antibacchius.)

But shitgibbon didn’t originate with MetalOllie. Its early history has been traced by Hugo van Kemenade, a resourceful word researcher whose biggest claim to fame is finding the earliest known use of the word selfie in a 2002 Australian forum post. (He goes by @hugovk on Twitter and just “Hugo” elsewhere.) As Hugo shared on English Language & Usage Stack Exchange and Wiktionary, shitgibbon can be found all the way back in 2000 on music-related Usenet newsgroups.

EvilJam32, 21 Mar 2000, alt.music.tragically-hip
Good luck and goodbye to the most sick-making, hypocritical bunch of shitgibbons i’ve yet encountered on the Web!

Master8 uk, 28 Nov 2000, alt.music.morrissey
get the f*ck off this newsgroup, shitgibbon!!

Chris Adams, 26 Sep 2001, alt.music.bootlegs
If you want cheap then feel free to buy from any one of 10,000 shitgibbons out there…

Hugo notes that all three of these examples come from the British bootlegging scene, where a shitgibbon evidently referred to “someone who trades copies and doesn’t appreciate the effort it takes to record a concert.” It’s hard to know how widespread this usage was, since based on the metadata of the Usenet posts it’s clear that “two of these three examples are from the same person (and possibly the third too),” Hugo says.

Via email, Hugo shared some more of his impressive research on shitgibbon:

It was used on Twitter as an insult before the famous tweet, including against Trump (e.g. 2012) mainly in politics and the recent use may come from Veep‘s “gold-plated fucking shitgibbon” of April 2012. It was also used by football fans during and before this.

I should’ve known HBO’s Veep figured into this, since the show (winner of another Tucker Award last year) has been the source of so much creative political obscenity. Veep creator Armando Iannucci carried that over from his BBC political satire The Thick of It (starring Peter Capaldi as the super-sweary Malcolm Tucker, the patron saint of Strong Language). In a 2013 interview with Iannucci in Time Out London, the “gold-plated fucking shitgibbon” line came up (it’s from “Frozen Yoghurt,” the second episode of Veep‘s first season):

Working in America doesn’t seem to have affected your love of swearing: I saw one episode of ‘Veep’ where someone was referred to as ‘a gold-plated fucking shitgibbon’.
‘It’s funny, because I’m not really a swearer myself. It started with trying to get the political scene accurate in “The Thick of It”: they swear a lot in Downing Street so you’ve got to put swearing in, but you need to be creative or it gets boring.

So thank you, Mr. Iannucci, for whatever role you played in the rise of shitgibbon.

Finally, allow me to share some insults in the same vein as shitgibbon, as collected by the indefatigable Hugo.

wankpuffin, cockwomble, fucktrumpet, dickbiscuit, twatwaffle, turdweasel, bunglecunt, shitehawk

And some variants: cuntpuffin, spunkpuffin, shitpuffin; fuckwomble, twatwomble; jizztrumpet, spunktrumpet; shitbiscuit, arsebiscuits, douchebiscuit; douchewaffle, cockwaffle, fartwaffle, cuntwaffle, shitwaffle (lots of –waffles); crapweasel, fuckweasel, pissweasel, doucheweasel.

That about covers it!

Update, Feb. 13: In the comments below, the British writer David Quantick says he came up with shitgibbon writing for New Musical Express in the late ’80s. Check out my followup on Slate’s Browbeat blog where I confirm that Quantick (writing in NME with Steven Wells) did in fact coin the word.

23 thoughts on “The rise of the shitgibbon

  1. DAVID QUANTICK February 10, 2017 / 7:37 am

    Hi, I wrote the Veep line. It was originally “spunk-faced shitgibbon”, a phrase I used in a 1988 column in New Musical Express and have put in most of my writing since. PS I’m not Scottish and have nothing to do with bootlegging. all the best David Quantick

    Liked by 4 people

  2. marisabowe February 10, 2017 / 8:10 am

    My mother, age 86, has forever occasionally used the word “shitbrindle.”She has no memory of where or when she got it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lisa February 11, 2017 / 7:52 am

      my mother, age 95, occasionally quotes a friend’s mother (generation older) calling a color “shit turned brindle”. My sense was basically dried dog turd color, but what do I know? Have no sense of Scots heritage or no.

      Liked by 1 person

      • jonath February 24, 2017 / 7:50 pm

        ‘shit-brindle-brown’ was often used by my ‘elders’

        Like

  3. Sawney February 10, 2017 / 10:29 am

    Totally related – both Capaldi and Iannucci are Scots.

    Like

  4. tom February 11, 2017 / 1:35 pm

    To gibbons, wombles, weasels and puffins should be added badgers, wankbadger and cuntbadger being personal favourites. The metrical explanation now has me pondering what other creatures might be put to creative use in these contexts. Gibbons aside, there seems to be a preponderance of animals-found-in-burrows being used here, so maybe gerbils or otters might have some mileage…

    Like

    • Elusis February 14, 2017 / 2:45 am

      Many, many years ago, one Sexbat of Slimelight and Whitby Gothic Weekend started a thread on Usenet (was it alt.gothic? uk.people.gothic?) about the copious possibilities of the “rude word | animal” construction. ISTR that this resulted in extensive discussion about the most salubrious combinations, but unfortunately they may have been lost to time and the vagaries of archiving. I always feel rather sad when I get the urge to try to locate the conversation just one. more. time and inevitably fail.

      Like

      • Elusis February 14, 2017 / 8:21 pm

        As a follow-up, if anyone’s able to locate said thread, I’d be eternally grateful. It was probably sometime between about 1996 and 2002?

        Like

  5. cicatricella February 12, 2017 / 12:27 am

    wow, it’s originally Canadian? I feel briefly patriotic.

    Like

  6. A. Catherine Noon February 12, 2017 / 12:30 am

    My husband and I adored this article. We roared, several times. I’m so glad I found your site; I’ll definitely be back. ~still giggling~

    Like

  7. inopinatus February 12, 2017 / 3:20 am

    Always been fond of “cuntknuckle”, which I developed whilst at university in Edinburgh.

    Like

  8. greydrakkon February 14, 2017 / 5:36 am

    A tangent: While I say both shitehawk and shitbird, the former has to have the
    British pronounciation of “shyte” while the latter has the American more abrupt “shit”. That may just be me though.

    Like

      • Tyngewick February 22, 2017 / 4:00 pm

        In one of his memoirs, Spike Milligan suggests that ‘shite hawk’ was used by troops in India for an actual bird the Kite Hawk. Note it doesn’t fit the rules as the second word is not a trochee.

        Like

  9. Barc7 February 16, 2017 / 3:34 am

    Well, one of my favorite, though seldom-used, epithets is “turkey twats and monkey cunts”. I’ve never mentally made portmanteau constructions, though.

    Like

  10. KWHammes February 19, 2017 / 7:16 am

    Reblogged this on 2 Ravens 72 and commented:
    Too clever not to share.
    It’s almost Shakespearean!

    Like

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