High flatulent language

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Christopher A. Craig sends along a gem of a Cupertino (our term for a spellchecker-induced miscorrection), from today's "Washington Wire" blog on the online Wall Street Journal. The piece describes an anti-Obama Youtube video from the Republican National Committee that uses clips of other Democrats talking negatively about Obama in the past:

Clips of former President Bill Clinton and former candidate John Edwards are also used. “Rhetoric is not enough. High flatulent language is not enough,” says Edwards from a debate appearance.

As you might have guessed, what Edwards actually said in the debate was "Highfalutin language is not enough." The word highfalutin should be in any decent spellchecker's wordlist, but if it is written as two words, high falutin, then the second element of the compound can go unrecognized. The origins of the falutin element are obscure, with the best etymological guess being that highfalutin developed as a jocular pronunciation of high-fluting. Fluting is in fact one of the suggestions for falutin given by the latest versions of Microsoft Word (2003 and 2007), right behind faulting. But presumably some other spellcheckers suggest flatulent as an alternative (perhaps for a differently spelled variant of falutin?), since the Cupertino shows up in many other places:

"Not," he adds, "to sound too high flatulent about something that's just a crap superhero book." (Salon, Oct. 18, 2000)

Well, your high flatulent society is worse than that. No, but if you figure in inflation, prices should be like $3.00 a gallon. (CNN Transcripts, Mar. 13, 2005)

Not only is PK soon going to be a TV star, but he also attends high-flatulent weddings in places like Cape Cod, where roads are named Sleeping Dog Parkway. (The Big Lead, June 7, 2006)

Every once and awhile it is fun to laugh at the art world, to take the stuffiness out of the high flatulent language and just be amused. (Iridescent Art News, Mar. 10, 2007)

Of course, "high flatulent" actually sounds like a reasonable descriptor for pretentious pomposity. Consider sense 5 of flatulent in the OED:

5. fig. Inflated or puffed-up, 'windy'; empty, vain, pretentious.
1658 OSBORN Adv. Son (1673) 237 Religion grows flatulent and Hypocritical.
1697 DRYDEN Æneis Ded. e4 How many of those flatulent Writers have I known.
1742 YOUNG Nt. Th. vi. 239 Flatulent with fumes of self-applause.
1863 N. & Q. 3rd Ser. IV. 284 Much of the poetry is little more than very flatulent declamation.
1870 SWINBURNE Ess. & Stud. (1875) 261 A score or two of poems, each more feeble and more flatulent than the last.

Given the figurative relationship between flatulence and windbaggery, this is a particularly fortuitous Cupertino. The chance resemblance could also explain why editors might not notice the error, since the miscorrection makes about as much sense as the original. In fact, it's more transparent, since the origins of highfalutin are lost in the mists of time. Could this be the first documented Cupertino eggcorn?


  1. Mary Blockley said,

    June 4, 2008 @ 3:21 pm

    Is "fortuitous" here a Cupertino in a Cupertino? Don't you mean a "fortunate" or "happy" or "serendipitous" association and not brute random chance?

  2. Mary Blockley said,

    June 4, 2008 @ 3:23 pm

    Ok, having checked MW 2a and 2b I suppose I have to admit to being insufficiently contemporary.

  3. Dan T. said,

    June 4, 2008 @ 3:35 pm

    Why do people let those damn spellcheckers change stuff without the slightest bit of human scrutiny, anyway?

    I don't need no steenkin' spellchecker myself… my speling is gud enuf alredy.

  4. Megan said,

    June 4, 2008 @ 3:46 pm

    I don't usually comment here, but I'm de-lurking to say that that's hilarious.

  5. emordino said,

    June 4, 2008 @ 6:36 pm

    > Flatulent with fumes of self-applause.

    Delightful, if a little unsettling.

  6. Jed Davis said,

    June 5, 2008 @ 12:26 am

    Meanwhile, my surely rather outdated book of French profanity/colloquialisms mentions "péter plus haut que son cul", literally "to fart higher than one's ass", as a way of saying that someone thinks too highly of themself.

  7. Benjamin Zimmer said,

    June 5, 2008 @ 9:48 am

    Péter plus haut que son cul: a feat worthy of Le Pétomane.

  8. John O'Toole said,

    June 5, 2008 @ 1:28 pm

    Mr. Davis's book of French colloquialisms may or may not be outdated, but the expression "péter plus haut que son cul" is very much alive and well in the French language. One might even say the expression is "farting the fire" (péter le feu: to be bursting with energy, to be full of beans). It is quite widespread, employed high and low, even by those who "fart in the silk" (péter dans la soie: to live in the lap of luxury). The term of art here, more accurately the term of laugh art here, is more socially acceptable than its English equivalent. It might be closer to "break wind" in that regard. Ars petandi, Rabelais coined it, not knowing he was playing on English as well as Latin and French. High flatulence indeed!

  9. jean-pierre metereau said,

    June 5, 2008 @ 1:34 pm

    Jed: that's what my sainted mother used to warn me against. I was surprised when I first heard this from her, since she was rather a puritan about language. But I guess that the expression is imbedded enough in the repertory of French ready-made phrases to have been acceptable to her. She didn't even euphemize "cul" to "derriere."

  10. marie-lucie said,

    June 5, 2008 @ 2:34 pm

    "Péter le feu" means literally 'to fart fire', not 'fart the fire'.

    Unlike English 'to fart', the verb "péter" is not restricted to the bodily function but can mean more generally 'to burst'. You can say about someone "il ou elle pète de santé" 'he or she is bursting with health' (not 'farting with health'). If you gain too much weight, the tension in your clothes might cause the seams to burst or the buttons to pop, both events which can be described by this verb, as in "le bouton a pété".

  11. Mo VanderLism said,

    June 5, 2008 @ 4:48 pm

    The Norwegian roadsign for speedbumps, a black wavy line with the word FARTSDEMPER underneath, always seems to me to describe exactly the feeling of driving over them.

  12. John O'Toole said,

    June 5, 2008 @ 5:53 pm

    Marie-Lucie, you're quite right to point out the broader sense of the verb "péter." Indeed, one can imagine my perplexity, when I was first learning to speak French over a quarter century ago, upon hearing someone warn me that I was going to "faire péter le verre" into which I was pouring a hot liquid. Not knowing the broader sense of the verb at that moment I had quite a time trying to wrap my mind around the carminative abilities of a simple glass.

    The facetious word-for-word translation "farting the fire" was to point up the comic side of such an idiomatic phrase plucked from its natural surroundings and dropped into English. I wonder, all the same, if a majority of French speakers don't imagine, if they think of the phrase at all, a bit of flame shooting from the hindquarters of the person in question.

    Finally, in French you have a "pet-de-nonne," a kind of donut that tips the hat to the apparent quality of the wind generated by nuns; and an old word, "pet-en-l'air" or "rase-pet," a kind of peacoat (my, we can't seem to get away from the earthier functions). I also recall a dialect (?) word for a species of edible mushroom called a "pet-de-loup" (wolf's fart). All of which is a long way from the high flatulence that began this article!

  13. marie-lucie said,

    June 6, 2008 @ 6:56 pm

    @ John O'Toole: I ate "pets-de-nonne" (old spelling) as a child long before I knew how to spell the word (which I did not analyze), and I did not become aware of the literal meaning until considerably later. As I remember, they are somewhat amorphous in shape, not like donuts, although they are a deep-fried pastry. I remember my mother using the word "rase-pet", not as a noun for a type of short coat (as defined in the Petit Robert) but more like an adverb (?), referring to the back length of a garment just skimming the buttocks (I can't remember a typical sentence using this word). The mushroom you are referring to is a puffball, a type more commonly known as "vesse-de-loup", "vesse" being a form of "vessie" 'bladder'. The Petit Robert points out that the Greek name "lycoperdon" is from "lycos" 'wolf' and the verb "perdesthai" "péter". Some varieties are edible when young but eventually the dense inside mass turns into a cloud of foul-looking dust.

  14. MJP said,

    June 7, 2008 @ 5:13 am

    On the subject of wind, the BBC has posted footage of the "world's largest hurricane stimulator". ABC seem to have taken the same flight of fancy, though not in the headline…



  15. Mo VanderLism said,

    June 7, 2008 @ 7:47 am

    Come to think of it, the prefix/suffix fart, meaning speed in germanic languages and something else in English, is fairly similar, then, to péter.

  16. John O'Toole said,

    June 9, 2008 @ 11:58 am

    Marie-Lucie: Saperlipopette (accent sur les deux dernières syllabes)! this is fun, by god! Saperlycoperdon! Thanks for the name of the type of mushroom, but I think you're a bit off the mark with the proposed etymology (and we're still in the realm of breaking wind). The "vesse" in "vesse-de-loup" is from the old term "vesse," again meaning a foul-smelling instance of breaking wind. Cotgrave gives among several English equivalents "Bull fyste" and "Wolues fyste," "fist" being an old term in English for foul-smelling wind-breaking. See, too, the OED II under fist, sb2; the word is apparently, besides its primary meaning of an instance of breaking wind, the English equivalent of a 'vesse-de-loup"; one of the synonyms listed is "wolves' fist." Finally, Cotgrave, again under "vesse," gives the amusing locution "panier a vesses" (lit. fist basket), which cries out to be revived.

  17. marie-lucie said,

    June 9, 2008 @ 1:29 pm

    John, a great find! It makes more sense than "vessie" which I had always been told was the origin. I should have paid closer attention to the Petit Robert, which (right above "vesse-de-loup") does define "vesse" (as well as a verb "vesser", both words listed as "vulg." and "rare" – indeed I had never run into them): gaz intestinal qui sort sans bruit et répand une mauvaise odeur".

  18. Slashdotter said,

    June 12, 2008 @ 6:57 pm

    This goes hand-in-hand with some recent ironic usage that could also be considered ironically scatological:


    "Republican Web 2.0 consultant David All was effluent with praise for this outreach, calling it 'smart' and 'unique.'"

    As many who commented pointed out, effluent should not be used in the sense of 'overflowing with praise' given that the word usually refers to wastewater or sewage.

  19. Treesong said,

    August 3, 2012 @ 9:39 am

    Any mention of vesser/péter reminds me of one of my favorite words. From merriam-webster.com:

    Definition of VESPETRO
    : a liqueur consisting of brandy flavored with anise, fennel, coriander, and angelica and sweetened with sugar
    Origin of VESPETRO
    F vespétro, fr. vesser to break wind noiselessly + péter to break wind + roter to belch

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