Senator Elizabeth Warren, the planful Massachusetts Democrat, is not the presidential candidate who comes to mind when one thinks of political potty-mouths. (See Ben Zimmer’s 2019 Tucker Awards for examples of public swearing from Beto O’Rourke and Tim Ryan, who are no longer in the race, and from Donald J. Trump, who for the time being is.) So it was a bit of a surprise when Warren’s campaign adopted “LFG” as an unofficial campaign slogan and began selling “You and Me LFG” merchandise.
“Strong language” covers a lot of speech, from profanity to racial and ethnic slurs. The slurs got a big boost on 17 June 2017, in a United States Supreme Court decision. Until then, the Lanham Act of 1946 — which governs American trademark law — prohibited use of derogatory terms like slurs in federally approved trademarks. To quote the Act, trademarks may not “disparage … persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols, or bring them into contempt, or disrepute.” The Court unanimously decided instead that trademark owners can disparage with abandon and bring others into contempt or disrepute deliberately or with disregard.
In the words of Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the majority opinion, Simon Tam — founder of The Slants, the first all Asian-American dance-rock band — applied “for federal trademark registration of the band’s name […]. ‘Slants’ is a derogatory term for persons of Asian descent, and members of the band are Asian-Americans. But the band members believe that by taking that slur as the name of their group, they will help to ‘reclaim’ the term and drain its denigrating force.” The United States Patent and Trademark Office refused the application because slant refers to the disparaging stereotype that people of Asian heritage are “slant-eyed.” The band hoped to “‘take ownership’ of stereotypes about people of Asian ethnicity.” The USPTO obstructed that re-appropriation. Continue reading
How the fuck did what the fuck become acceptable — nay, desirable — as a template for business names and ad campaigns? The obvious rhymes, the winking allusions, the no-apologies acronyms: It’s a WTFestival out there.
Once upon a time, advertising copywriters could seize your attention with words like FREE and SALE and GUARANTEED OR YOUR MONEY BACK. Now they vie to see who can nudge closest to actual expletives without going full Tucker. Over the last couple of years we’ve seen “abso-booking-lutely” and “Look at the booking view!” from Booking.com, in which “booking” substitutes for “fucking”; “Ship my pants!” from supposedly family-friendly Kmart, in which “ship” sounds very much like “shit”; “half-fast Internet” from Verizon (“half-assed”—get it?); “Go fun yourself” from Toyota Europe; “Go fork yourself” from Bravo TV; and “I take a sheet in the pool” from Sheets Energy Strips (I think you can figure out the last three).
And the trend keeps trending. Here are some recent examples: Continue reading
The latest bulletins from Swearsville:
The New Yorker profiles Jony Ive, Apple’s vice president of design
Overlapping framed images leaned against the wall: a Banksy print of the Queen with the face of a chimpanzee, and a poster, well known in design circles, that begins, “Believe in your fucking self. Stay up all fucking night,” and ends, many admonitions later, “Think about all the fucking possibilities.”
Image via Business Insider (link via commenter Linda).