It’s become our annual tradition here on Strong Language to hand out awards for the best in swearing over the past year. (See the honors for 2015 here and 2016 here.) The Tucker Awards are named after the patron saint of Strong Language, Malcolm Tucker, the super-sweary political fixer from the BBC’s The Thick of It (and the film spinoff In the Loop), as portrayed by Peter Capaldi.
Best Fucking Swearing in Print
Since we needed the spirit of Malcolm Tucker more than ever in 2017, it’s my pleasure to present a Tucker Award to none other than… Malcolm Tucker. When Armando Iannucci guest-edited The Big Issue in October, he presented an email exchange between Tucker and another iconic character he helped create, Alan Partridge. In “Alan Partridge vs Malcolm Tucker: The Great Big Brexit Grudge Match,” Tucker is as seething as ever (and Partridge is as banal as ever) on the subject of Brexit. By the end of the exchange, Tucker has worked himself into a fine lather, lashing out at “house-bound shit-for-brains Brexit zombie fucks” and “that lying shit Boris Johnson, a 20-stone binbag of fucking giblets in a Brian Jones wig.” The pinnacle may be: “Also, fuck all this Little Britain, Keep Calm and Bake Off, Fingers Crossed, Let’s Go It Alone COCK PHLEGM.”
(Important update! We’ve been informed by Ian Martin, who was hired by Iannucci for the first season of The Thick of It as his “swearing consultant,” that he and fellow writer Will Smith were responsible for the Tucker rants in the email exchange. Credit where credit is fucking due.)
There’s clearly a great public appetite for Malcolm Tucker these days — a satirical website and Twitter account are among the keepers of the flame. Sadly, even though Peter Capaldi has time on his hands now that his stint on Doctor Who has come to an end, Iannucci has made it clear on Twitter that Tucker will not be returning to television to tackle Britain’s Brexit-era political landscape. But at least we can savor the little bit of Tucker we got in 2017.
And while we’re on the topic of Doctor Who, an honorable mention in this category goes to Nicholas Pegg, who was responsible for operating the Daleks on the show. Pegg wrote a regular column for Doctor Who Magazine under the pen name “The Watcher.” In his October column, Pegg included a special message for BBC Worldwide, the show’s distributor, and Panini Comics, the publisher of the magazine. The first letter of each sentence in the column spelled out, “Panini and BBC Worldwide are cunts.” Unsurprisingly, Pegg was immediately let go.
Best Fucking Swearing on Television
When cable-news shows book Republican strategist Rick Wilson to be a commentator, they know what they’re going to get: searing indictments of the Trump administration delivered with a no-bullshit attitude. Shit (along with its many variants) is, in fact, one of Wilson’s favorite words. On Twitter back in April, he said of Trump, “The daily chaotic shitshow can’t disguise the fact that he’s just not good at the work of being the leader of our nation.” And when he went on MSNBC on May 12th, he reiterated the point.
The reason Donald Trump is revisiting the illegal voting conspiracy is because he has to throw out some boob bait for his audience. These people are desperate for any change of subject. They’re desperate for anything that isn’t the, the shitshow (sorry, guys) of this entire week, the craziness of this entire week.
Wilson gave a little apology after saying shitshow (which, as Nancy Friedman has observed, is a popular word these days). The host Ari Melber (substituting for Lawrence O’Donnell) followed that up by saying, “Apologies if any children are watching.” But Wilson’s pottymouth didn’t get him banned from MSNBC — on the contrary, he was back on O’Donnell’s show the following week, on May 18th, with more pungent words about Trump and congressional Republicans.
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.
Wilson has also brought his swearing talents to CNN, notably in an appearance on Nov. 27th in which he went after White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders for serving up “an avalanche of horseshit”:
Don, the reason she does that is because her job is contingent upon her being a serial, congenital liar in defense of Donald Trump’s latest outrages. I mean, she probably has some tiny shriveled husk left of her soul where she realizes this is the wrong thing to do. But she does it anyway because otherwise they’ll replace her. …. Few presidents go out and sling overt racial code words like that. Few presidents go out and crap on the dignity and legacy of people like these code talkers, these heroic veterans. And then send their press secretary out to answer questions in a way that isn’t saying, “Wow, the president regrets what he said today, he made a mistake, he truly wishes he had not said that.” Instead, she goes out and tries to bury people in an avalanche of horseshit every day, because this is her job.
Speaking of CNN, an honorable mention in this category goes to Fareed Zakaria, host of his own weekly show on the network, who is not afraid to call out Trump for bullshitting. Zakaria first called Trump “a bullshit artist” in August 2016, and he continued the theme in 2017. Here are quotes from three of Zakaria’s appearances on CNN Tonight with Don Lemon:
He has spent his whole life bullshitting, he has succeeded by bullshitting, he has gotten the presidency by bullshitting, it’s very hard to tell somebody at that point that bullshit doesn’t work because look at results, right? (Mar. 17)
It’s nonsense. It’s what I’ve called bullshit. Does anyone really think that Donald Trump is actually taping? No. (May 12)
The feeling is, you know, he’s just — I mean, as I’ve said many times before, he’s just bullshitting. (Sep. 5)
Zakaria doesn’t move beyond bullshit and bullshitting, though, unlike Wilson’s more creative shit-stirring.
Best Fucking Swearing in Politics
No contest here. One thing we’ll always remember from 2017 is the all-too-brief tenure of Anthony Scaramucci as Trump’s communications director in late July. His White House career was derailed by a remarkably sweary phone call to The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza, who proceeded to print Scaramucci’s comments in all of their profane glory. This should not have been a surprise to anyone who had been following the Mooch. Back in January, when he first joined the Trump administration, Jessica Pressler of New York magazine quoted him as saying:
And the other thing I have learned about these people in Washington… is they have no money. So what happens when they have no fucking money is they fight about what seat they are in and what the title is. Fucking congressmen act like that. They are fucking jackasses.
That was just a warm-up for what he said to Lizza after being named communications director. He called then White House chief of staff Reince Priebus “a fucking paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac,” and memorably said, “I’m not Steve Bannon, I’m not trying to suck my own cock.” Scaramucci apologized for his “colorful language,” but days later he was dismissed from his position by Trump, after Gen. John F. Kelly was brought in as the new chief of staff to clean house.
For more on how Scaramucci’s comments were reported in the U.S. and around the world, see my post, “Mooch mouth: Scaramucci takes public profanity to a new level,” and James Harbeck’s post, “Global autofellation with the Mooch.”
Honorable mention in this category goes to former president George W. Bush. At the end of Trump’s inauguration in January, Bush spoke for all of us when he was overheard saying, “That was some weird shit.” In her memoir What Happened, Hillary Clinton wrote, “I couldn’t have agreed more.”
Special mention should also go to Pennsylvania state senator Daylin Leach for calling Trump a “fascist, loofa-faced, shit-gibbon” in February. Leach was echoing one of the finest Trump insults from 2016, when @MetalOllie tweeted that Trump was a “tiny fingered, Cheeto-faced, ferret wearing shitgibbon.” When I posted about this on Strong Language, David Quantick came forward to take credit for coining shitgibbon in columns he wrote for New Musical Express with Steven Wells in the late ’80s. In a piece for Slate, I confirmed Quantick’s claim. I think Quantick, @MetalOllie, and Leach deserve Lifetime Achievement Awards for sharing shitgibbon with the world. Linguists have even started referring to similar epithets like cockwomble and jizztrumpet as “shitgibbon compounds.”
Best Fucking Swearing in Sports
In May, Boston Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale threw a pitch behind Baltimore Orioles third baseman Manny Machado as retribution for Machado sliding into Dustin Pedroia in a previous game. Machado was tired of being targeted by Red Sox pitchers, and he let reporters know about it after the game.
Deadspin provided a handy bleep-free transcript.
Fucking bullshit. Fucking bullshit coward stuff. That’s stuff that you don’t fucking do. But I’m not on that side, I’m not in that organization. They’re still thinking about that same slide that I did that was no intention on hurting anybody and I’m still paying, I’m still trying to get hit at. Getting thrown at my fucking head, getting fucking thrown at everywhere. It’s fucking bullshit. I’ve lost mad respect for that organization, for that coaching staff, for everyone over there.
I mean, if you’re gonna fucking hit me, hit me, go ahead. Fucking hit me, you know? Don’t let that shit keep fucking lingering around and, you know, keep trying to fucking hit people…
Pitchers out there with fucking balls in their hands, throwing 100 mph trying to hit people. And I’ve fucking got a bat too. I could go out there and crush somebody if I wanted to. But you know what, I’ll get suspended for a year and the pitcher only gets suspended for two games. That’s not cool.
Best Fucking Swearing in Music
Annie Clark makes music under the name St. Vincent, and in June she released her first single in two years, “New York.” The song repeatedly uses the word motherfucker, but in a surprisingly tender way.
If I call you from First Avenue
Where you’re the only motherfucker in the city
Who can handle me
If I last-strawed you on Eighth Avenue
Where you’re the only motherfucker in the city
Who can stand me
So, if I trade our hood for some Hollywood
Where you’re the only motherfucker in the city who would
Only motherfucker in the city who would
Only motherfucker in the city who’d forgive me
In an interview with the podcast Song Exploder detailing how she wrote the song, St. Vincent waxes rhapsodic about the F-word: “I get a lot of pleasure from saying ‘fuck.’ I love that word. It’s so satisfying. It’s such a satisfying word to say.” As for her use of motherfucker in the song, she says, “I just love the idea of using really blue language as a term of endearment… My mother would be horrified, but I’ve been cursing like a sailor since I was eight… To me, ‘motherfucker’ says, ‘I know you, inside and out, and you know me. Don’t pretend.’”
Best Fucking Swearing on Twitter
One of last year’s honorees, Sweary McSwearbot, is still going strong, but 2017 brought new Twitterbots that swear with automated precision. (One bot, Fuck Every Word, ran afoul of Twitter’s rules against hateful language and got suspended.) Of the new batch, I’m fond of Rob Manuel’s Swear Clock, which shoots out profanities every hour on the half hour.
Our own Iva Cheung gave the bots a run for their money in October when she promised an epithet for every like received. She fell behind after she got retweeted by Strong Language, but her output was nonetheless impressive.
Who doesn’t enjoy a foulmouthed toddler? Give it up for James LaPorta and his two-year-old son Joel.
But the single best swear I saw on Twitter in 2017 came from Imani Gandy, who tweets as @AngryBlackLady. In August, after the far-right rally in Charlottesville, Va., there were reports of white supremacists losing their jobs after they were identified as participating in the rally. Gandy’s tweet said all that needed to be said.
“Chicken-fried fuck” was rightly celebrated as an exquisite variation on the fuck-giving theme.
Best Fucking Publishing Trend of 2017
Finally, Nancy Friedman passes along a trend she’s noticed in book titles over the past year: fuck and fucking are all over the place (although often daintily asterisked).
- F*ck, That’s Delicious, a cookbook by Action Bronson, who has a cooking show on TV with the same name
- Trump is F*cking Crazy: (This is Not a Joke), by Keith Olbermann
- Things You Should Already Know About Dating, You F*cking Idiot, by Ben Schwarz and Laura Moses
- Life’s Too Short to Go So F*cking Slow, by Susan Lacke
But it’s not just fuck. I’ve seen the reverse, unfuck, popping up in new book titles as well.
- Unfuck Your Brain: Getting Over Anxiety, Depression, Anger, Freak-Outs, and Triggers… with Science!, by Faith G. Harper
- Unf*ck Your Habitat: You’re Better Than Your Mess, by Rachel Hoffman
- Unfu*k Yourself: Get Out of Your Head and into Your Life, by Gary John Bishop
Happy New Year to all, and may your 2018 be unfucked!