Charlie Foxtrot

“And it’s an insult to people when you say it’s an insurrection, and then a year later, nobody has been charged with that (crime),” DeSantis continued. “I think it’s very important that if this is what you said it was, why are you not charging people? So, I think it’s going to end up being just a politicized Charlie Foxtrot today.”

If you’re unfamiliar with military lingo, it’s part of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) phonetic alphabet that assigned the 26 code words to the 26 letters of the English alphabet in alphabetical order: Alfa, Bravo, Charlie, Delta, Echo, Foxtrot, Golf, Hotel, India, Juliett, Kilo, Lima, Mike, November, Oscar, Papa, Quebec, Romeo, Sierra, Tango, Uniform, Victor, Whiskey, X-ray, Yankee, and Zulu.

It’s likely that at some point, when on the phone with a person who’s in a cubicle, you’ve said something like, “My name is Smith, that’s ‘S’ as in Sam,” etc.

So, getting back to DeSantis, here, by “Charlie Foxtrot” he’s using military slang for “clusterfuck.” Oddly, this is fairly recent, dating to 1969, meaning “a total disaster.” It would be natural to interpret it as meaning “a cluster of fucks.” But that’s not quite right. One of the signature elements of the Vietnam War was that officers often made bad decisions. And officers wore oak-leaf clusters on their uniforms.

Ergo, a “clusterfuck” would be a disastrous situation resulting from top brass not understanding the reality on the ground. As this term emerged in general English usage, the military sense has drifted away and the common understanding is that it’s just a general cluster of fucked-up things happening.

Update: I should have been more clear that this is a speculative etymology and not a proven one. It certainly could have arisen from the general sense of “a cluster of fucked-up things happening.”

Merde! “Emmerder” les emmerde

On December 10, 1896, the actor Firmin Gémier stepped onto the stage of the Théâtre de l’Œuvre and uttered the first word of Alfred Jarry’s play Ubu Roi: “Merdre!” The audience immediately lost their shit. For fifteen minutes, they screamed, shouted, whistled, and argued with each other, all because an actor in an avant-garde theatre had uttered a word perilously close to merde, which is French for “shit.” They were, you could say, pissed off.

On January 5, 2022, Emmanuel Macron, president of France, sat down with for a Q&A with readers of the newspaper Le Parisien and said, among other things, “Les non-vaccinés, j’ai très envie de les emmerder.” It was duly reported. His opponents lost their shit – or at least made indignant noises. The world press, for their part, gained their shit – or anyway one bit of good shit to draw readers like flies. The provocation was in both the wording and the sentiment: Macron said he really wants to emmerder the unvaccinated, and you can see that same merde in the bowels of the word. He didn’t mean he wants to shit on them, though – in English, we’d more likely say “piss them off.” (And it should be pointed out that Macron did say “pardon the expression” before using the term.*)

The world, and France, has changed quite a bit in 125 years; from being a word an actor can’t come close to saying on stage, merde has become a word that is just a bit impolite for a politician to say in public. Likewise, newspapers and other media sources that decades ago could never print “piss” can now use it in a headline – the first page of Google results I get (YRMV) for macron piss off brings up headlines from the BBC, The Guardian, Canada’s Global News, NPR, The Globe and Mail (Toronto), France 24, Reuters, CNN, and The Independent (UK).

Not that everyone was so gleeful in reporting it, of course. The New York Times dourly reported “Using Harsh Language, Macron Issues a Challenge to the Unvaccinated” – it did translate Macron’s quote as “The unvaccinated, I really want to piss them off,” but added “using a French word that is more vulgar” and, further down, explained further “Mr. Macron studiously used the word ‘emmerder,’ which is translated literally as ‘to mire in excrement’ and means to ‘annoy’ or ‘to give a hard time to.’”

There are two particularly pressing questions in regard to this news: 

  1. Why is it emmerder and how do you use the word in conversation?
  2. How did news sources in other languages translate it?
Continue reading

The 7th Annual Tucker Awards for Excellence in Swearing

A year ago, we took note of the song “F2020” by the trio Avenue Beat, with the lyrics, “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).” Well, be careful what you wish for. After another fucking exhausting year, it’s time once again for Strong Language to recognize the annual achievements in swearing. Hard to believe, but this is the seventh year that we’ve given out the Tucker Awards for sweary excellence. (No shit: here are the roundups from 20152016201720182019, and 2020.) As we never tire of explaining, the awards are named in honor of the patron saint of Strong Language, Malcolm Tucker, the profane political spinmeister brought to life by Peter Capaldi in the BBC series The Thick of It and the movie spinoff In the Loop.

Even though The Thick of It has been off the air since 2012, Tucker’s spirit lives on. Last April, when the Scottish tabloid The Daily Record reported on a study by the marketing agency Reboot naming Glasgow the UK’s sweariest city, they proudly featured a photo of Glasgow’s own Capaldi-as-Tucker.

Who knows what kind of Glaswegian invective Tucker would have hurled at the terribleness of the past year, but let’s see who swore it best in 2021.

Continue reading

“Let’s go, Brandon”

Was it a misinterpretation? A well-meaning reporter’s deft attempt to avoid a Federal Communications Commission fine for airing “obvious profanity”? An example of the perfidious mainstream media’s pro-Democrat bias?

Or was it something else entirely?

Here’s what we know: On October 2, as 28-year-old racecar driver Brandon Brown was being interviewed about his winning race at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama, some people in the stands were chanting “Fuck Joe Biden!” (What provoked the political chant at a nonpolitical gathering? Unclear, but it had already been well documented, along with the #FJB hashtag, both on- and offline.)

NBC Sports reporter Kelli Stavast either heard or wanted to hear something different:

Continue reading

WTF are the “fboys” in “FBOY Island”?

Although it’s given all-caps styling in the title, FBOY Island, HBOMax’s first foray into reality TV, is not an initialism. Rather, it’s an abbreviation of, and a euphemism for, fuckboy. It’s an oddly diffident elision when you consider that HBO has been gleefully detonating F-bombs for a couple of decades.

I’ll get to the story behind the coyness—and to the history of fuckboy—in a bit. First, though, an introduction to the series, whose first three episodes premiered on July 29 and which will continue through August 12.

Yep, it’s another “dating” show—the title nods to Love IslandParadise Island, and, for all of us 30 Rock fans, the wholly fictional and hilarious MILF Islandwith a familiar setup. Three young women who have slightly different skin tones but are otherwise hard to tell apart (size 00, hair extensions, false eyelashes) are transported to a magnificent villa on a tropical island (not identified, but it’s Grand Cayman, and the villa costs $5,198 a night). So are 24 young men who appear to have spent vast amounts of time at the gym and the barber shop, and whose occupations include “bitcoin investor,” “CBD entrepreneur,” “TikToker,” “club promoter,” “talent agent,” “child care-slash-influencer,” and “exotic dancer-slash-realtor.” Continue reading