Political blowjobs, or The power of expletive-filled number plates

This is a guest post by Dr Philip Seargeant, Senior Lecturer in Applied Linguistics at the Open University. Philip has published extensively on linguistics in social media and politics, and helped create the acclaimed video series The History of English in Ten Minutes. He was last seen on Strong Language with an article on emoji swearing. He tweets at @philipseargeant.

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Blowjobs have played an occasional but important part in political history. The most notable recent example, of course, involved Bill Clinton. It was his equivocation over the nature of his relations with Monica Lewinsky that led to him being impeached on perjury charges. A century before Clinton, another president had an even more decisive oral-sex-related experience. Félix Faure, President of the French Republic between 1895 and 1899, was unlucky enough to die in office from a cerebral haemorrhage which he supposedly suffered while being fellated by his mistress.

The latest entry in the annals of political crises involving blowjobs doesn’t concern the act itself, however, but rather the word. Specifically, it concerns the use of the word as a political insult. And even more specifically, an insult expressed by means of car vanity plates.

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Swears in the news

What a fucking week! In the U.S., Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement — but only after siding with the court majority in upholding President Trump’s travel ban and bestowing a judicial blessing on anti-abortion facilities. The Environment Protection Agency’s chief ethics officer recommended an investigation of his own boss. Immigrant children as young as 3 were being ordered to appear in court alone. A gunman with a festering grudge shot up the newsroom of a newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland, killing five employees. And in the UK … well, we’ll get there in a minute.

It was, in short, a week guaranteed to elicit a lot of strong language, and on that score it did not disappoint. Here’s a brief round-up.

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Goat rodeo

On Friday, after President Trump abruptly canceled a June 12 meeting in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, reporters scrambled to file updates. One of them was Daniel Dale of the Toronto Star, who attempted to get a quote from Jeffrey Lewis (@ArmsControlWonk), an expert on nuclear nonproliferation. The response wasn’t quite what Dale had hoped for, but it was newsworthy in its own way.

Goat rodeo seems like an amusing but innocuous way to describe the chaotic situation that Lewis was alluding to. On the surface, it appears more family friendly than its time-honored synonyms clusterfuck, fuckup, snafu (Situation Normal, All Fucked Up), fubar (Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition), and shitshow. Dig a little deeper, though, and you discover the sweary origins of the term. Continue reading

Shitholes around the world

Donald the Trump has yet again opened his cakehole and gifted us – and especially lexicographers – with another citable instance of vulgarity. Naturally, his ass-mouth made headlines around the world when he said “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” And naturally, this shit has to be reported on in other languages. So what do you do when you’re writing in another language and trying to translate shithole countries effectively? Continue reading

Down the “shithole”: Why lexicographers need your profanity

Originally published on harm•less drudg•ery

Though the average lexicographer is as odd as a horse in trousers, we are, at least, a staid and quiet horse in trousers most of the time. There’s very little that will rile us up, and that’s a feature, not a bug.

But there is one event that makes most lexicographers startle and gasp in delight, one event that will get us to look up from our desks and start shivering and chittering like lab rats on cocaine:

God bless the motherfucking Washington Post

When a well-respected newspaper prints the word “shithole.” Continue reading