Oh, 2020, you’re finally over. And that can mean only one thing: it’s time to award the annual Strong Language honors for excellence in swearing. This is the sixth year that we’ve bestowed the highly prestigious Tucker Awards. (You can take a walk down memory lane by checking out our previous roundups, from 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019.) Regular readers will know that the awards are named in honor of the patron saint of Strong Language, Malcolm Tucker, the super-sweary political spin doctor played by Peter Capaldi in the BBC series The Thick of It and the film In the Loop.
Even though series creator Armando Iannucci continues to maintain that The Thick of It won’t be making a comeback, Tucker’s spirit was alive and well in 2020. In fact, a clip from the show, with Tucker declaring “a fucking lockdown” in the office, was used as a public-service announcement by the BBC back in March soon after the U.K. government announced the first stay-at-home order of the pandemic.
We can only imagine how Tucker would have handled this fucking omnishambles of a year. Let’s get this shitshow on the road.
Best Fucking Swearing of 2020
Four years ago, surveying a dumpster fire of a year, we declared that “the best swearing of 2016 was also the best swearing at 2016.” Well, all those “Fuck 2016” memes are but a distant memory now, replaced by even more vocal vituperations at 2020. The best sweary summary of our 2020 feelings was provided by the Toronto agency Public in a 90-second spot for a campaign called #EFF2020, designed to drive donations to the Mental Health Coalition and the Black Health Alliance.
The “Fuck 2020” sentiment was also eloquently expressed in song form. Honorable mentions go to two cathartic songs in very different genres. First off is “F2020” by Avenue Beat (the sweet-voiced trio of Savana Santos, Sami Bearden, and Samantha Backoff), whose message “lowkey fuck 2020” went viral on Tiktok back in June.
And for those who prefer a more glam-metal take on the concept, there’s “Fuck 2020” by Steel Panther.
Best Fucking COVID Slogan
The COVID pandemic generated much of the swearing in 2020, but obscenity was often put to good use to encourage people to, you know, wash their fucking hands, keep their fucking distance, wear their fucking masks, and stay fucking safe in general. In this category, we’d like to give special recognition to the students of Boston University who came up with the snappy slogan, “F*ck It Won’t Cut It.”
The campaign has garnered a fair bit of media attention, and as our trademark expert Anne Gilson Lalonde points out, Boston University applied for a federal trademark registration for the slogan. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s elimination of the scandalous mark ban (which Anne wrote about here and here), the application has made it through initial examination. The services applied for are: “Promoting public awareness of safe and smart actions and behaviors for college and university students in a COVID-19 environment.”
Our West Coast correspondent Nancy Friedman alerts us to two other COVID safety campaigns worth recognizing. First, the city of San Francisco has been using the hashtag #MaskTheSFup.
And West Hollywood has a series of PSAs targeted at “young invincibles,” exhorting them to “Wear a F@#%in’ Mask,” because “Masks are Badass.”
(If you want to show off your love of strong language while masking up, check out Nancy’s roundup of sweary masks.)
Best Fucking Protest Statement (U.S. edition)
In the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, there was plenty to swear about, as emotions boiled over in protests regarding police violence and racial injustice. An exceptionally heartfelt statement came from Jeremy Frisch in a virtual community call held by the Los Angeles Police Commission. At the time, LAPD Chief Michel Moore had made a comment (later retracted) that looters were equally responsible for George Floyd’s death as Minneapolis police officers. Frisch made the most of his allotted 30 seconds on the call.
Black Lives Matter, defund the police. I find it disgusting that the LAPD is slaughtering peaceful protesters on the street. I had two friends go to the protest in Beverly Hills a couple days ago and the protest was peaceful until the police showed up with their excessive, violent force, shooting rubber bullets and throwing tear gas. Is this what you think of protecting and serving? Because I think it’s bullshit. Fuck you, Michel Moore, I refuse to call you an officer or a chief because you don’t deserve those titles. You are a disgrace. Suck my dick and choke on it. I yield my time, fuck you.
Best Fucking Protest Statement (overseas edition)
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, protests over Boris Johnson’s tenure as prime minister took a musical form. A foul-mouthed comedy troupe called The Kunts released a single called “Boris Johnson is a Fucking Cunt.”
Even though the song was originally released in June, it climbed the British charts at the end of the year when all eyes were on the race for the Christmas Number One single. While it didn’t make Number One, it did crack the Top Five.
Best Fucking Swearing in the Media (U.S. edition)
The supreme shittiness of the first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Joe Biden on Sep. 29 left CNN’s anchors grasping for words. Jake Tapper described it as “a hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a trainwreck. It wasn’t even a debate, it was a disgrace.” Dana Bash did him one better:
I’m going to say it like it is. That was a shitshow. We’re on cable. We can say it. Apologies for being crude. But that is really the phrase I’m getting from people on both sides of the aisle on text and the only phrase I can think of to describe it. I couldn’t agree with you more.
It’s possible Bash was inspired by a pre-debate piece by Rick Wilson for The Daily Beast, “You Can Bet Trump’s Debate Prep Was a Total Shitshow.” (An earlier headline for a Daily Beast piece by Wilson read, “Trump Fed Himself This Shit Sandwich, and Trumpists Pecked at His Table Scraps.”) Wilson is an old hand on the shitshow scene: we recognized him in 2017 for his sweary commentary on CNN, MSNBC, and Twitter, including his characterization of the Trump administration as “a daily chaotic shitshow.” Wilson is just a commentator, though, while Bash, as an anchor, carries more gravitas when she drops an S-bomb. For more on her use of shitshow, see James Harbeck’s Strong Language post, which delves into how the word can be translated into other languages.
Honorable mention goes to Wall Street Journal reporter Michael C. Bender, whose Oval Office interview with President Trump in June included this wonderful exchange about an incident involving Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recounted in John Bolton’s tell-all book The Room Where It Happened:
Bender: Bolton writes that Pompeo told him multiple times he was close to resignation. He says Pompeo passed him a note during your meeting with Kim Jong Un saying that you were full of shit.
Trump: Who is full of shit?
Bender: You, sir.
Trump: I would doubt that. Does he have the note? Let me see the note.
Best Fucking Swearing in the Media (overseas edition)
Let’s hear it for the readers of The Guardian for not holding back when the newspaper held a poll asking them to summarize how they felt about 2020 in a single word. And let’s hear it for The Guardian for not censoring the results. Out of 6,185 responses, shit led with 261, followed by fucked with 208. (Since shit works as an adjective as well as a noun in British English, saying “2020 was shit” is a grammatical twofer.) The Guardian Australia data team even generated a word cloud (we’ll overlook the use of Comic Sans), revealing such responses as clusterfuck, shitshow, shithouse, and shite.
Late update: By contrast, here’s how the results of a similar USA Today/Suffolk poll appeared, with 15 percent of respondents answering with [expletive]. (Which one?)
Best Fucking Swearing in Politics
Jen O’Malley Dillon, President-elect Joe Biden’s campaign manager and incoming White House deputy chief of staff, caused some buzz in December when she gave a freewheeling interview with Glamour, including these choice lines:
I feel like I’m at my TED Talk here, but that’s the other thing that’s totally a pet peeve for me. When you have a meeting somebody wants to schedule, so many women are like, “Well, I don’t want to tell them I can’t make it because I have a school thing or my kid is sick, because that’s not professional.” Fuck that. Why shouldn’t I say, “Actually, you can’t talk to me from 6:30 until 8:00 unless it’s an emergency, even on a presidential campaign during a pandemic, because that is the only time I have with my kids. And that is more important.” […]
Like Joe Biden says all the time, “Great leadership starts with listening.” It’s challenging for us to do that right now, because of how polarized we are. But politics breaks down to one-on-one conversations and not being afraid to talk. I get that you’re not supposed to talk politics at the holiday dinner. Well, fuck that. It’s because we don’t do that that we are in this situation now. […]
The president-elect was able to connect with people over this sense of unity. In the primary, people would mock him, like, “You think you can work with Republicans?” I’m not saying they’re not a bunch of fuckers. Mitch McConnell is terrible. But this sense that you couldn’t wish for that, you couldn’t wish for this bipartisan ideal? He rejected that. From start to finish, he set out with this idea that unity was possible, that together we are stronger, that we, as a country, need healing, and our politics needs that too.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany expressed expurgated outrage in a tweet: “Biden Campaign Manager called us ‘F***ers’ !!!” The hypocrisy of McEnany’s response was called out by Roy Edroso in his marvelous Substack post, “Fuck you: A Disquisition.” (“The word is ‘fuckers,’ you truth-twisting, democracy-disgracing piece of shit.”)
Edroso was frustrated that O’Malley Dillon ended up walking back the “bunch of fuckers” line. That reversal was reminiscent of a move by John Kerry earlier in the year. When rumors spread that Kerry might jump into the Democratic primary race, he made it clear on Twitter that he wasn’t running for President, saying, “Any report otherwise is fucking (or categorically) false.” But he ended up deleting the tweet to remove that exquisite parenthetical glossing of the adverbial intensifier fucking, revising it to “Any report otherwise is categorically false.” No points to Kerry for his change of heart.
Let’s also give an honorable mention to Melania Trump for her salty Yuletide observations caught on a secret recording by her former senior advisor Stephanie Winston Wolkoff: “I put — I’m working like a ass — my ass off at Christmas stuff that, you know, who gives a fuck about Christmas stuff and decoration, but I need to do it right?”
Best Fucking Swearing on Social Media
There were some notable celebrity swears in social-media spats this year. Leading the pack is whoever is responsible for the Twitter account of the band The Pogues. [Update: Band member Spider Stacy has taken credit.] After it was reported that BBC Radio 1 would be playing an edited version of The Pogues’ Christmastime classic “Fairytale of New York” to remove the derogatory terms faggot and slut, the actor/conservative firebrand Laurence Fox complained about it. The Pogues responded, “Fuck off you little herrenvolk shite.”
A similarly pithy rejoinder came from Lilly Wachowski, co-director of the Matrix movies, in response to tweets from Elon Musk and Ivanka Trump repurposing the “take the red pill” line from The Matrix.
Meanwhile, on Instagram, Seth Rogen didn’t mince words when responding to people unhappy with his Black Lives Matter post.
Finally, one of my favorite moments on Twitter in 2020 came when Lin-Manuel Miranda explained how he “literally gave two fucks” to maintain the PG-13 rating for the film version of his musical Hamilton, streaming on Disney+.
Best Fucking Swearing in Music
While we’ve already had a few musical entries so far, there’s no contest when it comes to the most noteworthy swearing in song for 2020. That would have to be “WAP,” the smash hit from Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion. “WAP,” as everyone knows by now, is an acronym for “Wet-Ass Pussy,” and the lyrics easily make it the dirtiest #1 hit in Hot 100 history, as Slate’s chart analyst Chris Molanphy put it. (Elsewhere on Slate, Matthew Dessem broke down the history of sexually explicit #1 hits, and “WAP” is clearly the filthiest of them all.)
The explicitness of “WAP” was widely hailed as an expression of female sexual empowerment, though the song’s lyrics elicited the predictable chorus of outcry from conservative critics. WAP itself quickly entered the vernacular, and it was in the running for Slang/Informal Word of the Year in the American Dialect Society’s 2020 Word of the Year voting, which I oversee. WAP ended up losing out in that category to the rona (a colloquial name for the coronavirus), but not before attendees of the virtual WOTY session got to enjoy watching me squirm having to explain the acronym.
And that just about wraps it up! As we bid adieu to this terrible fucking year, I’ll leave you once again with the words of Avenue Beat’s “F2020.”
Lowkey fuck 2020
I don’t know about everybody else
But I think that I am kinda done
Can we just get to 2021? (Please)