Asterisks Justin's dad says

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A truly strange piece of euphemism came up in a UK newspaper interview with Justin Halpern, the creator of the hit Twitter page Shit My Dad Says:

One day we took the dog for a walk. My dad said: "Look at the dog's asshole — you can tell from the dilation that the dog is about to shit" and the dog went to the bathroom. He was incredibly impressed by his prediction.

The dog went to the bathroom? Not exactly a case of like father like son, linguistically.

Keep in mind, Justin is the son of the man (a San Diegan) who said of Los Angeles: "It's the epicenter of the asshole earthquake. They'd fuck you twice if they had another dick."

We are talking about the dad who said (on being asked how he lost 20 pounds), "I drank bear piss and took up fencing. How the fuck you think? I exercised."

The man who claims, "Look, we're basically on earth to shit and fuck. So unless your job's to help people shit or fuck, it's not that important, so relax."

This is not a man who would describe a doggie as going to the bathroom, is it?

Reading the piece was even stranger in a UK context, where the euphemism "going to the bathroom" is not at all common, since the room in question is not called the bathroom, it's called the lavatory or the toilet (both of them being euphemisms too, of course). I assume that it was the architectural practice of having the WC in the room with the bathtub gave Americans their euphemism, while the British practice of having it in a separate very small room near the bathroom did not favor it, though I don't intend to do any scatoarchitectolinguistic research on the matter.

The British publication of the interview gave rise to a few other translation challenges. I have deasteriskified things above for your reading convenience. In the newspaper (The Metro),

  • "Shit My Dad Says" was rendered as "S*** My Dad Says";
  • "the dog is about to shit" was rendered as "the dog is about to s***"; and interestingly,
  • "asshole" was rendered as "a***hole", which (if you count the asterisks) tells us that the British newspaper first translated the "ass" of Justin's American English to "arse" and then did the asterisking out — clear evidence that they wanted readers to reconstruct exactly the right lexeme, but not through explicit orthographical evidence (go figure).

Of course, America has been even more prudish, compared to the normally quite vulgar British newspapers. The Los Angeles Times didn't even dare get close to the real title of the Twitter page: on this L.A. Times blog they called it "Stuff My Dad Says". The book Justin has made from his Twitter site had to be titled Sh*t My Dad Says, which doesn't match the name of the site or the Metro's reference to it; and the TV series inspired by the site is called $#*! My Dad Says, which doesn't match either the site or the book or the L.A. Times reference or any other, and is officially pronounced "Bleep my dad says". It's a wonder anyone ever finds any of these things.

The terror of what might ensue if anyone were to print the most basic of the earthy Germanic words for human excrement clearly continues unquelled. Except here on Language Log, of course, because we are linguists, and we don't give a shit: we simply don't believe that honest Anglo-Saxon monosyllables will either sear your eyeballs or warp the moral fiber of the young.

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