## The birth of obscenicons

Back in 2010, I went in search of the earliest examples of cartoon cursing characters — those playful typographical symbols that have been called "grawlixes" (a term coined by "Beetle Bailey" creator Mort Walker) but which I prefer calling "obscenicons." I detailed my quest in two Language Log posts: "Obscenicons a century ago" and "More on the early days of obscenicons." (The posts were later adapted for Slate's Lexicon Valley blog: "How Did @#$%&! Come to Represent Profanity?") I was able to find obscenicons going all the way back to Dec. 14, 1902 in Rudolph Dirks' pioneering comic strip "The Katzenjammer Kids," followed shortly thereafter by Gene Carr's "Lady Bountiful" comic starting in Feb. 1903. I was pleased to learn that my obscenicon posts inspired Phil Edwards of Vox to do his own searching on newspaper databases, and the results can be seen in an entertaining new video, "How #$@!% became shorthand for cursing." Turns out obscenicons can be pushed back even further, to 1901.

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## Was it "getting" or "gay"?

Patrick Redford, "There's Nothing To Say About What Andrew Wiggins Said That's Not Conditional", Deadspin 1/9/2018:

Andrew Wiggins went off for 40 points on the Thunder last night in a lively game that featured 32-year-old interim coach Ryan Saunders getting his first win and Thunder guard Dennis Schröder getting ejected for shoving. Wiggins was asked about Schröder's ejection after the game, and he either said, "He was getting—he was acting crazy," or, "He was gay. He was acting crazy." Those are obviously two very different quotes, and as much as I think he's mumbling "getting," the tape is ultimately inconclusive.

"Andrew Wiggins: Would never disrespect LGBTQIA community", ESPN 1/9/2018:

Hours after he called Oklahoma City Thunder guard Dennis Schroder "gay," Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins sought to clarify his remark, saying early Wednesday morning that he wouldn't use "any term to disrespect" the LGBT community.

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## Taking shit from the chancellor

Well, shitstorm, anyway: Melissa Eddy, "Some Words Defy Translation. Angela Merkel Showed Why." NYT 12/6/2018:

Some words can't be translated easily. But they can cross national borders, lose their original context along the journey, assume different meanings and crop up in unlikely places.

This week, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany proved that point — memorably.

Speaking at a technology conference on Tuesday, Ms. Merkel, known as a staid, no-drama politician, told a self-deprecating anecdote about being widely mocked online five years ago after she described the internet as some mysterious expanse of "uncharted territory."

She chuckled at the memory of the digital blowback.

"It generated quite a shitstorm," she said, using the English term — because Germans, it turns out, do not have one of their own.

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## Insults, insults, and more insults

What's going on?  Lately everywhere you turn, especially in China, people are getting insulted — big league:

• Fashion house suffers high-profile resignations after 'country of s***t' storm
• D&G attempts damage control as Communist Party weighs in to row

Zhuang Pinghui, SCMP (11/22/18)

• Designer Stefano Gabbana says his Instagram account was hacked and apologised following screenshots of him apparently calling China 'a country of s***'
• That followed an ad campaign that featured a Chinese woman struggling to eat pizza, spaghetti and an oversized cannoli with chopsticks

Zhuang Pinghui, SCMP (11/21/18)

• Insensitive and offensive adverts attract huge numbers of complaints online and in the mass media
• Advertisers say they are easy targets and people will complain about anything

Elaine Yau, SCMP (11/20/18)

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## Annals of unexpected bowdlerization

Emily Jane Fox, "Michael Cohen says Trump repeatedly used racist language before his presidency", Vanity Fair 11/2/2018:

After the first few seasons of The Apprentice, Cohen recalled how he and Trump were discussing the reality show and past season winners. The conversation wended its way back to the show's first season, which ended in a head-to-head between two contestants, Bill Rancic and Kwame Jackson. "Trump was explaining his back-and-forth about not picking Jackson," an African-American investment manager who had graduated from Harvard Business School. "He said, 'There's no way I can let this black f-g win.'" (Jackson told me that he had heard that the president made such a comment. "My response to President Trump is simple and Wakandan," he said, referring to the fictional African country where Black Panther hails from. "'Not today, colonizer!'")

I puzzled for some time over what word "f-g" might be a disguised form of, and eventually decided it must be "fag" — though Vanity Fair usually publishes taboo words without disguise, including that one. And even the famously prissy New York Times freely publishes "fag". But does anyone have a better guess?

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## Sinographic taboo against Islam

Tweet by Timothy Grose, a specialist on Islam in China, especially in Xinjiang:

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## Chinaperson

When I started taking Mandarin in the fall of 1967, one of the first words we learned was "Zhōngguó rén 中國人".  A classmate of mine translated that as "Chinaman", provoking our teaching assistant to reprimand him severely, saying that it was a racist term, and to give him a stern lecture about the history of anti-Chinese discrimination in the United States.

Now a West Virginia candidate for the US Senate, Don Blankenship, has fallen into the same trap by referring to the Asian-American father-in-law of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as a "China person" (see here, here, and here for news reports).

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## Don't skunk me, bro!

At Arrant Pedantry, Jonathon Owen continues the conversation about begs the question (Skunked Terms and Scorched Earth). Citing my previous post Begging the question of whether to use "begging the question", Jonathon describes me as writing that "the term should be avoided, either because it's likely to be misunderstood or because it will incur the wrath of sticklers." I wouldn't put it that way; I did quote Mark Liberman's statement to that effect, and I did note that I had, in an instance I was discussing, decided to follow that advice, but I don't think I went so far as to offer advice to others.

As it happens, I'm meeting Jonathon for lunch (and for the first time) later today. I'm in Utah, where the law-and-corpus-linguistics conference put on by the Brigham Young law school was held yesterday, near where Jonathon lives. So I will have it out with him over the aspersion he has cast on my descriptivist honor.

Despite my peeve about Jonathon's post, it's worth reading. He discusses the practice of declaring a word or phrase "skunked".  As far as I know, that is a practice engaged in mainly by Bryan Garner, who offers this description of the phenomenon of skunking: "When a word undergoes a marked change from one use to another . . . it's likely to be the subject of dispute. . . . A word is most hotly disputed in the middle part of this process: any use of it is likely to distract some readers. . . . The word has become 'skunked.'"

Jonathan writes, "Many people find this a useful idea, but it has always rubbed me the wrong way." He explains:

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## The letter * has bee* ba**ed in Chi*a

Since the announcement by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) yesterday that the President of China would no longer be limited to two five-year terms in office, as had been the case since the days when Chairman Mao ruled, there has been much turmoil and trepidation among China watchers and Chinese citizens.  Essentially, it means that Xi Jinping has become dictator for life, which is not what people had been hoping for since Richard Nixon went to China 46 years and 5 days ago.  What everyone had expected was that China would "reform and open up" (gǎigé kāifàng 改革開放), which became an official policy as of December, 1978.  Instead, all indications from the first five years of Xi's regime and the newly announced policy changes regarding Xi Jinping thought and governance are that China has jumped right back to the 1950s in terms of policies and procedures.

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## The curious case of "dillweed"

On The Awl, Samantha Sanders has a wonderful piece on "Dillweed (As An Insult)." (This is part of The Awl's "holiday series on flavors and spices," naturally enough.) She muses on how dillweed has been used as a pejorative since it was popularized by the show "Beavis and Butt-Head" back in the early '90s and considers how this mild-mannered herb got pressed into service as a minced oath. On Twitter, I responded with some more ruminations on the history of dillweed, as well as other insults from the same family, including dickweed, dinkweed, and dickwad (with input from slangologist Jonathon Green and others). I've compiled the Twitter thread as a Storify story, embedded below.

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Li Ka-shing, the Hong Kong entrepreneur, is one of the wealthiest persons in the world.  Around the beginning of this month, he sold the famous Hong Kong skyscraper known as The Center to a Chinese Communist Party-backed firm for over $5 billion, making it the most expensive commercial building ever sold. Here's the WSJ report on the transaction: "China's Communist Party Has Ties to$5.15 Billion Hong Kong Property Deal:  The Center was featured in Christopher Nolan's 'The Dark Knight'", by Wenxin Fan and Natasha Khan, WSJ (11/2/17)

What's interesting is that some websites claim that The Center is a "73 story building", while others describe it as having "80 floors". Apparently they're both correct … depending on what is counted.  This blog post explains why:  "Five Billion Dollar Office Tower Missing A Few Floors", by Nathaniel Taplin, WSJ (11/8/17).

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## Forbidden terms

Xinhua News Agency has published another list of banned words:

Xīnhuá shè xīnwén bàodào zhōng de jìnyòng cí 新华社新闻报道中的禁用词 ("Forbidden words in news reports of Xinhua News Agency").

Since it is designated as 第一批 ("first batch"), we can expect that more batches will be issued in the future.

You can find versions of the current list circulating all over the internet.  Here's one from a WeChat (Weixin.qq.com) post that I have relied on for the following account.  The proscriptions may also be found here.

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