Annals of euphemism

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We seem to be entering new lexico-political territory, which is increasingly challenging the publications guidelines of the mainstream media:

Andrew Rosenthal, "Donald Trump defends his hands", NYT 3/3/2016
Gregory King, "Donald Trump defends size of his penis", CNN 3/4/2016
"Mitt Romney Aims at Donald Trump, Hits G.O.P.", NYT Editorial 3/3/2016:

    Holy Mitt, what a meltdown.

James Poniewozik, "A National Descent Into Trump's Pants", NYT 3/4/2016

Or  maybe this is just part of the blurring of boundaries between private and public spheres? See e.g. "Taking shit from the president", LLOG 7/19/2006.


  1. Ben Zimmer said,

    March 4, 2016 @ 4:51 pm

    The CNN headline originally read "Donald Trump defends size of his hands," but they changed it to "penis" some time last night.

  2. JS said,

    March 4, 2016 @ 6:38 pm

    Same goes for penisgate as goes for the Hillary speeches: "no problem"? Really? OK, release the damn tapes and let the American public rest easy already.

  3. AntC said,

    March 4, 2016 @ 8:51 pm

    It was Trump who used schlong – presumably he wants to put the long into it.

    And what about all the delicate language around Monica Lewinsky's dry-cleaned dress?

  4. Doctor Science said,

    March 4, 2016 @ 10:04 pm

    Speaking of euphemism, or metaphor at least, Fred Clark of slacktivist recently posted about batshit and other fecal metaphors. I was surprised to learn that the use of different kinds of animal shit (ape-, bat-, horse-, bull-, sometimes dog-) for distinct meanings seems to be a 20th-C innovation. So, for instance, bullshit is not the same as batshit, nor is either precisely the same as apeshit.

    I would have thought that, as shit is a human universal, metaphoric varieties of shit would have a longer history. I wonder if the fact that in modern society most of us have to deal with shit a lot less often than our great-grandparents did has freed the concept to become more metaphoric and even philosophical.

  5. MattF said,

    March 5, 2016 @ 8:08 am

    Also chickenshit. My dad used to say that 'chickenshit everywhere' was the motto of poultry farming.

  6. Doctor Science said,

    March 5, 2016 @ 9:57 am


    Yes, I'd forgotten that one! It almost feels as though dealing with actual feces on a daily basis makes it an anti-metaphor, too real to be like something else.

    For chicken-, bat-, and ape-, the "shit" works to modify the standard metaphorical meaning of the animal in question. e.g. "batshit" means "batty, but worse".

    For bull- and horse-, which seems to be older formations, it's less clear.

  7. Yuval said,

    March 5, 2016 @ 3:37 pm

    This was such an excellent opportunity for a "Donald Trump Defends Size of his Hands, Penis" headline.

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