BP's efforts in the gulf

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Doonesbury's view, imagining that BP has hired Uncle Duke to handle its PR:

The Onion's take: "Massive flow of bullshit continues to gush from BP headquarters".

In the unlikely event that The Onion is not already in your daily mix of news sources, here are a few other recent stories that they've nailed: "Boston Globe tailors print edition for three remaining subscribers"; "Adderall receives honorary degree from Harvard"; "Christian Groups: Biblical Armageddon must be taught alongside global warming".


  1. Penn Student said,

    June 10, 2010 @ 9:06 am

    Onion, Colbert Report, The Daily Show and the NY Times are the few unbiased, authentic media outlets left in this country :)

  2. Mongoose said,

    June 10, 2010 @ 9:50 am

    "Boston Globe tailors print edition for three remaining subscribers"?

    I call a crash blossom! I originally read this as meaning "Tailors belonging to the Boston Globe print an edition for the three remaining subscribers", having been totally led up the garden path by the phrase "tailors print".

  3. Ralph Hickok said,

    June 10, 2010 @ 9:52 am

    I thought "tailors" might be a misprint for "Taylors," but then i remembered that the Taylor family no longer owns the Globe.

  4. wally said,

    June 10, 2010 @ 11:31 am

    Since this is Language Log, I thought we might explore the correct form of the verb in this phrase from the Onion article.

    "until the oil company had bullshit its way"

    Bullshit doesn't sound quite right to me. Bullshitted? Bullshat? I don't know.

  5. Mr Fnortner said,

    June 10, 2010 @ 11:41 am

    The verb should take its cue from the base "shit" which has shit or shat as its past participle, I would imagine. I believe the form printed is correct.

  6. Dan T. said,

    June 10, 2010 @ 12:08 pm

    But "bullshitted" is, as Steven Pinker would say, a "headless" verb, being derived from the noun "bullshit" rather than the verb "to shit". Hence, it should get a regular preterite suffix.

    The Twitter account BPGlobalPR might be of interest to those following humorous takes on the BP oil spill issue.

  7. Rembrandt Q. Einstein said,

    June 10, 2010 @ 12:48 pm


  8. Scott said,

    June 10, 2010 @ 4:34 pm

    I just want to second Dan T's recommendation of BPGlobalPR (on twitter). A few really solid sarcastic tweets a day about BP's corporate bungling.

  9. Mr Fnortner said,

    June 10, 2010 @ 5:07 pm

    Whether "bull" may derive from sources meaning trickery or falsehood, or in fact may literally mean the animal, we should leave to better scholars. I dare say the verb was coined well after the noun. Given that fact, Pinker's observation may comfort those who wish to add -ed to bullshit. The past participle is not, however, universally formed in this way by everyone. To many, the strong verb character must overwhelm the compound, and the historic past for shit is used. A Google search is illustrative.

    After reflecting for a while, I feel confident that the number of verb compounds using strong verbs is a very limited set, especially if one casts out all prefix forms (e.g., overtake, misspeak, forecast, uphold, and so on). Perhaps it is theses prefix forms that form the bulk of verbs Pinker speaks of. Of the others, some come easily to mind: ghostwrite, soothsay, housekeep, pinch hit, test drive. These all have irregular past participles. Bullshit seems to fit this group nicely.

    Finally, adjective forms such as fleabitten and faircaught are not fleabited or faircatched. My personal favorite past tense that shouldn't be is flied, as in "the batter flied out." Perhaps this is a phrasal verb, fly out, for which this past tense is ideal.

  10. Ginger Yellow said,

    June 10, 2010 @ 5:59 pm

    "The verb should take its cue from the base "shit" which has shit or shat as its past participle, I would imagine."

    In British English, the past participle of "shit" is in fact "shitted" or "shat".

  11. Frank Y. Gladney said,

    June 10, 2010 @ 11:25 pm

    Just as the past tense of _grandstand_ is _grandstanded_, not _*grandstood_, and _flied out to shallow left_ not _*flew out_, so the only possible past tense of _bullshit_ is _bullshitted_.

  12. ignoramus said,

    June 11, 2010 @ 12:47 pm

    Still, just effluent emanating from the filters of the glass house, all PR is a magicians way of pontificating, til they stumble onto a solution.

  13. john riemann soong said,

    June 11, 2010 @ 5:17 pm

    The p.p. of bullshit is bullshit. Enough said.

  14. Ray Dillinger said,

    June 11, 2010 @ 9:39 pm

    I must confess that I have never been able to discover any general rule which governs the conjugation of strong verbs. I'm not really familiar with OE, beyond puzzling out a few texts one word at a time using reference materials. Considering the 1s/2s/perfective triple that most strong verbs distinguish, consider these cases.

    Fly / flew / flown,
    shit / shat* / shit,
    bite / bit / bitten,
    swim / swam / (swam or swum depending on dialect)

    * ("shits" is a regularization of the 2nd person present and 1st person past form, increasingly common depending on dialect – but for purposes of trying to figure out an ancient rule I mention only the oldest form still in parlance.)

    Here are four strong verbs, but what if anything do these sets of forms have in common? Based on these, there seems to be no pattern that would allow anyone to predict the conjugation of a newly-encountered strong verb. Strong verbs do follow a pattern as to which cases get lumped together – for example as far as I can tell the 1past and 2present forms are identical in all surviving strong verbs. But what pattern, if any, did "regular" OE strong verbs follow as to what forms they took in the distinguished cases?

    In modern English, we treat strong verbs as irregular, meaning that they simply have to be memorized one word at a time. One consequence of this is that they remain irregular only for as long as they remain common enough to stay in the vocabulary of ordinary people. On encountering an unknown verb, people will use a regularized conjugation, and many formerly strong verbs have in fact been regularized as they became less common.

    But in OE where strong verbs were the norm rather than the exception, was there no correct regular rule, however obscured by irregular exceptions, that native speakers applied to derive (correct) conjugations of previously-unknown verbs?

    Because I can't find any regular rule in the surviving strong verbs, I suspect that most may now be irregular w/r/t whatever rule OE followed. Then as now, they are sufficiently common as to remain in the set of words that native speakers memorize as individual cases, so they may have been irregular even in OE. And it's been several centuries and a Great Vowel Shift since the "regular" strong conjugation in OE, if any, was a basic grammatical rule, so it's reasonable to suppose that the words have been "drifting" independently of any regular rule since then and so becoming more irregular over time.

    But I still don't know what OE regular rule, if any, they are exceptions to.

    In the absence of such knowledge, I'd have to recommend "bullshitted" as the (regularized) past form of the verb form "bullshit" – I dislike verbs that don't inflect at all for past tense. They seem imprecise to me. I recognize "bullshit" and "bullshitted" both being accepted as correct usage for the past tense today, but prefer the latter.

    If I knew the OE regular rule, and "shat" which still has enough parlance to be recognizable does in fact follow it, then I'd accept (though probably not produce) "bullshat" as correct too. But in the absence of such a rule, and a family of verbs whose conjugation uses it consistently, deliberately applying an irregularity to a relatively new coinage seems wrong. Fun as linguistic play, but not reasonable to expect as ordinary language use.

  15. baylink said,

    June 13, 2010 @ 3:06 am

    And just think of all the hassle with the PTC certain producers
    could have avoided by titling a new TV series
    "Shat my dad says" – especially given the casting.

  16. Ray Dillinger said,

    June 14, 2010 @ 9:42 pm

    Except, really, "Shat" is a past tense of the verb "to shit", and not any form of the noun "shit" meaning excrement. Therefore it's completely inappropriate functioning as the noun in the noun phrase "*shat my dad says." I could, however, imagine titling the show as "Bull My Dad Shat" or something like that.

  17. Rodger C said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 2:18 pm

    Re "bullshitted" v. "bullshat": Surely no one has ever said "It crept me out"?

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