Louis Menand recently reminisced at length in The New Yorker (23 November 2020) about the late Alex Trebek, longtime host of the television quiz show Jeopardy!, with this aside: “By his own account, offered in his brief and cheery memoir, The Answer Is[…] Reflections on My Life (Simon & Schuster, ), and confirmed by other reports, including McNear’s [Answers in the Form of Questions: A Definitive Guide to Jeopardy! and Its History (Grand Central, 2020)], when Trebek was off the air he was more laid-back and salty, less like your eighth-grade math teacher.” And that sounds about right. I’m pretty sure Mr. Fuller didn’t swear, though my eighth-grade algebra class gave him plenty of reason to do so — there’s plenty of swearing at algebra, even among eighth graders, but no swearing in it, and Mr. Fuller’s life was a veritable story problem.
I don’t do social media, and here’s why: just the other day, I watched my first TikTok. It rocked my world. Miami news anchor Frances Wang (@franceswangtv) posted a montage of Alex Trebek swearing like a salty seadog fishing herring in the Bay of Fundy. My wife thought I needed to see it, damn the psychological consequences.
Yes, 2020 has been a shitshow, but at Strong Language we still observe the niceties—or the naughtyties—of ritual and tradition. Here are gifts that evoke the spirit of the season and the whole fucking year.
This is a guest post by David Morris, a sub-editor and former English language teacher who holds a master’s degree in applied linguistics. David has written a few posts for Strong Language and writes about language at his blog Never Pure and Rarely Simple.
I stumbled across a website called Shit My Students Write,* on which teachers – it’s not specified what level – anonymously submit examples of their students’ writing. Most are of the type that used to be called “schoolboy howlers”. Sometimes the student’s intention is clear: “Hitler was a facetious dictator.” But I couldn’t figure out what was intended by the student who wrote:
My grandmother, when she was alive, was quite the grammar ho.
Thank you, Dana Bash, for the most concise and quotable characterization of the first Trump-Biden debate.
And, by the way, she did not – as some news sources are putting it – say “a shit show.” There’s an important difference. The Star Wars Holiday Special was a shit show: it was a TV show and it was shit (Mark Hamill confirms). The debate was a shitshow. A clusterfuck. A shambolic bumbleplex of wanktastic dimensions. As horrifying as if you let a vulgar beshitten amphetaminated overgrown toddler scream at an elder statesman and called it a “debate.” Which, actually, yeah. Levels worse than a shit show (Mark Hamill also confirms). If you want to know more about the origins et cetera of shitshow, Nancy Friedman laid down the good shit a few years ago here in “What a shitshow!”
But that leads us all to an important question, a question that it took a highly respected bestselling writer – and one of the absolutely nicest people on Twitter – to ask:
Replies poured in. Which makes me happy, not just because I love languages and I love the earthy colloquial words in them best, but because, unlike Trump’s shithole or Scaramucci’s fucking paranoid schizophrenic, cock-block, and suck my own cock, Bash’s shitshow didn’t get nearly as much notice in the international press. Believe me, I looked. In general, it seems, the international press didn’t give a shit and didn’t show up for this debate. (Good call.) So I rely on Celeste Ng’s Twitter respondents to inform us, with a bit of my own occasional additional looking up to check some details.
When Nancy Friedman, who writes about sweary brand names for Strong Language, discovered a California audio-equipment company called Schiit and a Norwegian travel-bag company called Douchebags, she couldn’t keep the story to herself. She emailed trademark lawyer Anne Gilson LaLonde, who’s written for Strong Language about “scandalous” and “offensive” marks, and asked: WTF? What follows is their online conversation, condensed and edited for clarity. Style note: We’re following the convention in trademark law to use all capital letters for trademarks. When referring to the business itself, we capitalize only the first letter of the name.