Blagobleepevich

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Geoff Pullum argues that the bleeping of Rod Blagojevich shields him from a full public appreciation of his foul-mouthedness: “somehow you don’t get the measure of Rod Blagofuckinjevich’s coarseness and contempt for the public by merely learning that he regarded his gubernatorial privilege as valuable; ‘a fuckin’ valuable thing’ gets across more of the flavor of the man.” Quite true. On the other hand, Americans have gotten so used to reading between the bleeps that it’s still possible to appreciate (and satirize) Blago’s coarseness in censored mode. Nightly satirists like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have already taken their shots, and now Saturday Night Live plays on his bleepability. [We had a link to the video here, but it has been killed off by an NBC copyright claim.]


In other news on the bleeping front, the New York Times Ideas blog notes that “bleep” itself is now on the ascendancy:

Looks like “bleep” is now its own bleeping punch line thanks to those expletive-laced wiretaps of the Blagojeviches released this week. John McCain joking on “Letterman” Thursday: “I don’t want to talk about the bleeping campaign. Understand? If you think I’m going to go back to that bleeping situation, then bleep you.” The columnist Jonah Goldberg: “There are so many bleeping things to love about this bleeping-bleep Blagojevich scandal it’s hard to know where to begin.”

Meanwhile, the Chicago Tribune riffs on David Letterman’s joke that the Illinois governor was charged with “one count of bribery, one count of fraud and one count of Blagojeviching.” They suggest the following “working definition” for the new eponym:

Blagojevich (bluh-GOY-uh-vich) noun. a scandalous person —verb 1 to damage or cheapen 2 to complain —adj., adv. [Vulgar Slang] 1 bleeping.

I’m quoted in the Tribune piece as saying that it’s unlikely that a verbing of Blagojevich would catch on (unlike, say, Borking) because it’s just too hard to say. But I like the idea of “Blagojevich” becoming a stand-in for the usual bleep of taboo avoidance. The Trib quotes one Chicago blogger: “I’m so blagojeviching blagojevich about Blagojevich.” Hmm, shades of this classic cinematic moment:



26 Comments

  1. Cass McKay said,

    December 15, 2008 @ 12:04 pm

    (D) from Ilinois, heh.

  2. DMV said,

    December 15, 2008 @ 2:02 pm

    Why “Blagofuckinjevich”?

    Given that the pronunciation of his name is “bluh-GOY-uh-vich,” inserting “fuckin” after “Blago” makes it hard (for me) to say.

    Blafuckinggojevich?

    I guess b/c people refer to him as “Blago?”

  3. Mayson Lancaster said,

    December 15, 2008 @ 2:51 pm

    Perhaps “blaggish” or “blaggin(g)” or even “blaggin’ A” will take off…

  4. bulbul said,

    December 15, 2008 @ 3:50 pm

    “bluh-GOY-uh-vich
    Why? Why not “bluh-GOH-yeh-vich”?

  5. Theodore said,

    December 15, 2008 @ 5:02 pm

    One thing that’s been missed here (and in Pullum’s post as well) is that the media is not responsible for this batch of bleeps… Go back and watch US Att’y Fitzgerald’s press conference. He substituted the bleeps in his speech (along with “and the word bleep was not the word he really used.”). I suppose in his position, Fitzgerald has to present himself as being above such coarse language, even when quoting. The comedy writers heard that, and realized they were bleeping golden.

    FWIW, I’m an Illinoisan living in the 5th Congressional District (Where Blagojevich was once congressman, as was (now ex-con) Dan Rostenkowski and future Obama Chief-of-Staff Rahm Emmanuel.)

    Although the press has used “Blago” for some time, it’s never seemed natural to me, I guess because of the prosody. A more natural (quasi-Slavic) short form might be “Goya” but that carries other meanings for lovers of art and Mexican food.

    If I were to make verb of my governor, I’d choose “rod”. (Which don’t forget is short for Milorad). Quit rodding around! Don’t rod this up!

  6. Benjamin Zimmer said,

    December 15, 2008 @ 5:21 pm

    Thanks, Theodore! I had meant to mention Fitzgerald’s role in promoting the Blagobleeps. One of the memorable quotes from Fitzgerald’s press conference was “And the bleeps were not really bleeps.”

  7. Nassira said,

    December 15, 2008 @ 6:55 pm

    DMV – *Yes*! That’s been bugging me, too. Given what we know about fucking-infixation, it ought to be “Bla-fucking-gojevich,” oughtn’t it? (Or rather something closer to “Bla-fuckin-gojevich” or “Bla-fucking-ojevich.”)

    Theodore – Another common one press nickname I’ve seen is “G-Rod,” apparently by analogy to “A-Rod” (a … um …. baseball player? yes?), where “G” presumably stands for “Governor.”

    Also, I couldn’t keep from giggling every time Fitzgerald said “bleep.” ;c)

  8. Daniel von Brighoff said,

    December 15, 2008 @ 7:00 pm

    @bulbul: Um…because that’s not how people say it? I had to phonemecise his name for some out-of-state friends when the scandal first broke, so I spent some time repeating it to myself and versions without a clear diphthong in the stressed syllable simply sounded wrong to me.

    Now I’ve got a question: I’m not familiar with the actor portraying Blago in the SNL skit. Is that his usual accent or has the Chicago native inexplicably been saddled with an outer boroughs accent because that’s one stereotypically associated with the kind of brazen thuggery being satirised?

  9. Lazar said,

    December 15, 2008 @ 7:17 pm

    One cute neologism that I’ve seen is “Blagosphere”, although I’m not quite sure how to use it.

  10. Daniel von Brighoff said,

    December 15, 2008 @ 7:50 pm

    @Lazar: Just hang on to it until the rest of the indictments start rolling in…

  11. Laura said,

    December 15, 2008 @ 9:26 pm

    How about “Blagokvetch” as a portmanteau (Blago + kvetch)?

  12. kip said,

    December 15, 2008 @ 9:38 pm

    I hope this is not too off-topic.. I have to mention this video that made the rounds a while back, where bleeps are put into something that does not actually contain profanity: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6AXPnH0C9UA

  13. bulbul said,

    December 15, 2008 @ 10:36 pm

    Daniel,

    I see, so the second syllable is [gɔɪ̯]? Admittedly I’m a native speaker of a Slavic language as well as of whatever the bleep Serbocroat is called these days, but when I listen to David Shuster’s or Kevin Tibbles’ pronunciation, I hear [bləˡgɔjəvɪt͡ʃ] or possibly [bləˡgɔɪə̯vɪt͡ʃ] (phonetics n00b here, sorry) and if I were to split it into syllables, it would be blə-gɔ-jə/ɪə̯-vɪt͡ʃ. A diphthong like [gɔɪ̯] would make sense to me in a voiceless environment, but not here. The fucking infixation apparently requires a preceding vowel and if “Blagofuckingjevic” and “Blagobleepevich” sounds ok to you, then I’m not the only one who believes the second syllable is [gɔ].

  14. Boris Blagojević said,

    December 15, 2008 @ 10:50 pm

    I thought I have a somewhat un-catchy surname, but now I see it’s becoming famous! Well, I’ve always had high aspirations, and I think entering dictionaries is a good first step to a more general world fame.

    I do like the sound of Bla-fucking-ojevich, it sounds like a good americanization of the name. Blableep(g)ojevich also has a nice bleep to it.

    So… if mr. Rod tried to get rich by selling Obama’s Senate seat, could I do the same by suing the Chicago Tribune for slander?

    Oh, by the way, if the story of Blagojevich’s blagojeviching spreads in these areas (and I’ve already seen reports about the frauds), we’ll be able to change the surname into something more into-the-character a lot easier. V > b is all you’d need – if there were a surname derived from the verb meaning to bleep (and meaning Bleeper) in Croatian or Serbian, it would be Jebić. I’m not sure how would that “blago” part fit, though. It would be interpreted as an adverb meaning something like “gently”…

  15. Lazar said,

    December 15, 2008 @ 11:26 pm

    @ bulbul: I’m pretty sure that the predominant pronunciation is [bləˈgɔɪ.ə.vɪtʃ], with a diphthong [ɔɪ] – that’s really the only tenable interpretation that I can make of Shuster and Tibbles’ pronunciations, for example, and it’s the one I use as a native speaker. I think the Language Loggers’ choice of infix placement may have been influenced by the common nickname that’s used for him, “Blago”, pronounced [ˈblɑgoʊ].

  16. Lazar said,

    December 15, 2008 @ 11:33 pm

    Just to elaborate a bit, regarding those two alternatives that you suggested, bulbul, the first one, [bləˈgɔ.jə.vɪtʃ], wouldn’t work because the /ɔ:/ phoneme is usually pronounced very open in American English, like [ɒ:], if not merged into [ɑ], so that would sound quite different; and the second one, [bləˈgɔ.ɪə.vɪtʃ], would be completely out of sync with English phonology. Even though /ɪə/ may occur as a marginal phoneme for some Americans (e.g. in “idea”, “theater”), it would never work in an unstressed post-vocalic position like that.

  17. Benjamin Zimmer said,

    December 16, 2008 @ 12:30 am

    @ DvB: I’m not familiar with the actor portraying Blago in the SNL skit. Is that his usual accent or has the Chicago native inexplicably been saddled with an outer boroughs accent because that’s one stereotypically associated with the kind of brazen thuggery being satirised?

    That’s Jason Sudeikis, who grew up in Kansas but did actually live in Chicago for a while. If he wanted to work on his Chicago accent, he could study under his uncle George Wendt, a regular on the SNL bit “Bill Swerski’s Superfans” (“Da Bearss”).

  18. Lazar said,

    December 16, 2008 @ 12:38 am

    It seemed like they completely forgot that Blago is from Chicago and just aimed for a stereotypical New York gangster accent. There shouldn’t be any non-rhoticism in his speech, for example.

    (And the British accents on SNL are generally horrible. Fred Armisen was pretty good as Boy George recently, but Andy Samberg and Bill Hader have made some atrocious half-assed attempts this year.)

  19. K. said,

    December 16, 2008 @ 1:51 am

    @ Lazar,

    “Blagosphere” has been in non-political use among XKCD readers for over a year, as attested here: http://xkcd.com/181/ . Randall Munroe generally uses authentic language data in his work, so the term may very well have been in circulation before the date of the comic.

  20. mollymooly said,

    December 16, 2008 @ 4:50 am

    The OED attests “(bleep)” from 1978 and and “bleeping” 1983. The printed equivalent of “bleep” is “blank”, attested from 1878. Here’s a sailor in Joseph Conrad’s “Typhoon” (1902):

    He didn’t mind, he said, the trouble of punching their blanked heads down there, blank his soul, but did the condemned sailors think you could keep steam up in the God-forsaken boilers simply by knocking the blanked stokers about?

  21. bulbul said,

    December 16, 2008 @ 6:47 am

    Lazar,

    thank you for the explanation, I think I get it now.

  22. Karen said,

    December 16, 2008 @ 6:55 am

    It’s probably important to remember that authentic pronunciations of a surname generally don’t last very long; they are reshaped into something that fits (in this case) American phonology and prosody. Remember Det Wojehowicz from Barney Miller, always insisting his name was “woe-juh-HOE-witz, just like it’s spelled!”?

  23. Daniel von Brighoff said,

    December 16, 2008 @ 1:25 pm

    N.B: “Wojciehowicz”. As Eyebrows McGee points out elsewhere, this isn’t a problem he would’ve run into as much had the show been set in Chicago. (On the other hand, this is the only US city my boyfriend’s ever lived where he’s had to regularly spell “Campbell”, so there are tradeoffs involved.)

  24. k said,

    December 16, 2008 @ 1:25 pm

    Blago is the standard way, in Bulgarian, to shorten names like Blagoj.

  25. R. N. Seattle said,

    December 16, 2008 @ 5:37 pm

    Let’s not forget Dan Savage’s somewhat successful coining of “santorum”.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santorum_(sexual_neologism)

  26. Arnold Zwicky said,

    December 16, 2008 @ 7:31 pm

    R. N. Seattle: “Let’s not forget Dan Savage’s somewhat successful coining of “santorum”.”

    Indeed, it got an award from the American Dialect Society. As Jesse Sheidlower reported on Slate back in 2005 (reporting on the Word of the Year competitions for 2004):

    The Most Outrageous category is tricky; we never agree whether it’s the word itself that’s outrageous (typically for having some vulgar element, as in 2003’s winner, cliterati, for “prominent feminists”) or the concept (as with 2002’s neuticles, “false testicles for neutered pets”). This year the strongest contender was santorum, defined (and heavily promoted) by sex writer Dan Savage—in a campaign to besmirch the name of right-wing Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum—as “the frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex.” We dismissed one potential problem—that newspapers wouldn’t print the term if it won—on the grounds that we shouldn’t censor ourselves. And indeed, in the afternoon’s voting, santorum did win, but many newspapers simply skipped this category in their coverage. So much for academic freedom.

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