‘What fresh hell’: the pitch-perfect chorus of our collective news outrage

It’s all too common these days. After a flight, a long meeting, a night’s rest, or any other blissful reprieve, we check the headlines. “Okay, I’ve been colouring my hair all morning and haven’t looked at the news once. Deep breath,” as one tweeter steeled herself. “What fresh hell have I missed?” What fresh hell indeed: While hell is a very mild taboo by Strong Language standards, the phrase is still the perfect expression for the experience of all the news, in its unrelenting cascade of controversies and outrages, in the Trump era.

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Taking a bite out of “shit sandwich”

These are the best of times for the hard-working shit- prefix. Last week, here on Strong Language, Ben Zimmer investigated the origins of shitgibbon – an epithet that has attached itself to the current occupant of the White House – and plumbed its deeper history in a follow-up post on Slate’s Browbeat blog. This week, the merde du jour is shit sandwich, which surfaced Thursday afternoon in a tweet from CNN anchor Jake Tapper about Robert Harward, a retired vice admiral, refusing the post of national security adviser.

 

(More on Harward from CNN here and from Esquire here.)

Whether Harward actually uttered the words “shit sandwich” is up for debate; Tapper’s single source was anonymous, and the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Financial Times didn’t even allude in a non-sweary way to the expression. Still, it’s as good a time as any — given the feculent state of affairs at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and environs — to take a closer look at the history of shit sandwich. Which turns out to be more curious than you might suppose.

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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.

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The golden shower

Say, what is now th’ ambition of the great?
Is it to raise their country’s sinking state;
Her load of debt to ease by frugal care,
Her trade to guard, her harass’d poor to spare?
Is it, like honest Somers, to inspire
The love of laws, and freedom’s sacred fire?
Is it, like wise Gondolphin, to sustain,
The balanc’d world, and boundless power restrain?
Or is the mighty aim of all their toil,
Only to aid the wreck, and share the spoil?
On each relation, friend, dependant, pour,
With partial wantonness, the golden shower,
And, fenc’d by strong corruption, to despise
An injur’d nation’s unavailing cries?
[The Poetical Works of George, Lord Lyttelton, 1801 (pages 137–138)]

How prescient Lord Lyttelton was! Corruption! Wantonness! The golden shower!

This is one of those moments where, if you’re a politician, you may get a sense that urine big trouble: Continue reading

Sweary links #22

Linguist Geoff Nunberg considers the media’s coverage of the Donald Trump pussy-grab tape: “The word Trump used may not be the most obscene term for a woman’s genital area. But it’s the one that focuses on it in a purely sexual way.” (Also see our own posts on the subject: A Banner Day for Profanity, by Ben Zimmer; Pussy on a Hot Trump Mic, by Copy Curmudgeon; and Watershed Moments: Donald Trump, Rakeyia Scott, and the Times, by Blake Eskin.)

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Speaking of Trumpian vulgarities, Language Log ponders the candidate’s use of “like a bitch.”

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Arnold Zwicky tracks down the history of jackhole: coined by two Los Angeles radio personalities to circumvent Federal Communications Commission language proscriptions.

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(Hat tip: @scarequotes)

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