Annals of [having sex] [feces]

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Reader NG sent email to note an innovative method of taboo-vocabulary avoidance, deployed by Lisa de Moraes or her editors in "'Sons of Anarchy' cast has a few bleepin' words for Emmy voters", Washington Post 8/4/2010.  The story to be covered includes a July 8 Facebook entry by Kurt Sutter, "We don't like your kind", which de Moraes characterizes as "perhaps the best response-from-the-creative-community-on-Emmy-nomination-day in history".

Sutter writes, produces, and acts in Sons of Anarchy, a series on FX about an outlaw motorcycle gang in northern California, and it bothered him that the show didn't get any Emmy nominations. The problem for de Moraes and the Post was that Sutter's response included one example of what the FCC once called "an … expletive to emphasize an exclamation".

Here's the text of Sutter's Facebook entry:

Let's face it, kids, we are the dirty-faced outlaws who no one wants in their clean white town.  We are too loud, too violent, too brash.  We don't sing, have pretty sets, or wear retro suits.  They admire us from afar, wish they could do what we do, then they pull the shades and settle for the familiar and safe.  They are lazy sheep.

Thanks for the kind words and all your support, Katey and I appreciate your venom.  But know this, I thrive on living outside the love circle.  I've been here for ten years now.  It fuels my bitterness, my over-inflated sense of self-righteousness and it makes me a more relevant artist.

It's too easy and lazy to be angry (Mariska Hargitay are you fucking kidding me? ).  So today, I choose gratitude.  I am enormously proud of everyone associated with Sons of Anarchy and truly excited about the stories we get to tell.  Yes, accolades are wonderful, (and if we were nominated I'd be calling the Academy geniuses) but at the end of the day, I'm simply grateful that I get paid a lot of money to do something I love.  And so, I go back to work, on the wrong side of the tracks.  Ride safe.

So the problematic phrase was "Mariska Hargitay are you fucking kidding me?". There are many traditional solutions, including "… are you f****** kidding me?", "… are you [expletive deleted] kidding me?", "… are you [bleep]ing kidding me?", and so forth. (The most straightforward solution, now adopted by many prominent magazines and some newspapers, would be to simply reproduce what Sutter actually wrote.)

De Moraes' solution was "Mariska Hagitay are you [having sex] kidding me?" Web search turns up one web-forum precedent from 2006, but I believe that De Moraes' usage was an independent invention. And in the same article, she offers a number of other examples of the same technique, in transcribing live remarks from Sutter and from other Sons of Anarchy stars at the Press Tour:

"Can I first say now, just to kiss all your [heinies], I so appreciate and it's so important to me to get the [Television Critics Association] nominations for the show and for Katey [Sagal], which is one of those moments were you say 'Okay, I'm not [having sex] crazy — we actually ARE doing good work!'."

"Every year when the nominations are announced, half the stories are about the nominations, and the other half are about the absurdity of the nominations and the snubs," Sutter continued, adding "Perhaps, to me, the suggestion is the system is flawed."

"[Have sex with] them!" "Sons" star Ron Perlman added, sensing TV critics were disappointed by Sutter's restrained answer.

"I don't subscribe to Emmys or any of that [feces]," "Sons" star Charlie Hunnam added, inspired by Perlman's insight.

"It's a crock of [feces] and it's corrupting," Hunnam continued, expanding on his theme.

"We're happy we aren't on the receiving end of a force that could change the dynamic of what we have…All of that [feces] is secondary and completely unimportant, but does have the potential to ruin a good thing. So, like I said, [have sex with] them!"

As NG observed in his email to me,

It's pretty having-sex amazing that the Post thinks "a crock of feces" is less objectionable than "a crock of shit." For me, at least, "feces" evokes a stronger reaction (specifically, of disgust), because it triggers a much more undiluted association with actual shit. Which isn't surprising given that "feces" is used exclusively to refer to the real thing.

As for "Have sex with them", [insert obvious reference here].

All of de Moraes' substitutions have the curious property of being more offensive than the originals. Even the cutsie-pie substitution of "heinies" for "asses" risks turning a common idiom for "curry favor" into a literal reference to anilingus.

I was going to close by linking to John McWhorter's 12/28/2003 WaPo op-ed, "Oh, R-o-ob, The Bad Words Won't Go Away". in which he observed that

We obsess over the encroachment of vulgar words into public spaces on pain of a stark inconsistency, one that will appear even more ridiculous to future generations than some Victorians calling trousers "nether garments" does to us.

But the trouble is, there's nothing left of John's piece on the Post's site but the headline. (?!) So here's a link to the version on the Manhattan Institute web site.



35 Comments

  1. John Walden said,

    August 7, 2010 @ 7:00 am

    At least the [illegitimate offspring] didn't criticise him for all those [having sex] passives that obviously make him sound like an evasive son-of-a [female dog].

  2. Richard D. Morey said,

    August 7, 2010 @ 7:17 am

    I've seen other substitutions like that, and it always strikes me as (intentionally) funny; kind of poking fun at the entire need to censor the words. Sometimes the substitutions end up with more sexual/scatological interpretations than the original, so it forces the question: "Who cares which words we use, especially when more 'acceptable' words can be even worse?"

  3. Q. Pheevr said,

    August 7, 2010 @ 8:05 am

    Okay, I give up. What is "[Television Critics Association] " a euphemism for?

    [(myl) I wondered too. My best guess is that he said "TCA" or "they" or something else opaque, and de Moraes or an editor added the full monicker in square brackets for clarity.]

  4. D.O. said,

    August 7, 2010 @ 9:41 am

    Re: [Television Critics Association] . Probably in the real speech it was just "get the nominations", Television Critics Association assumed. Otherwise, why drop the actual words? It is almost certainly the case with "Katey [Sagal]", which given how other bracketed words got there, is somewhat insulting.

  5. Janne said,

    August 7, 2010 @ 9:41 am

    And [Sagal]? Or is that a last name added for clarity? Perhaps a different typographical convention could be helpful: "…or any of that「feces」."

  6. Larry Lard said,

    August 7, 2010 @ 10:19 am

    I think the Something Awful forum used to replace (may still do) 'fuck' with 'gently touch'.

  7. Outis said,

    August 7, 2010 @ 10:28 am

    Can't remember exactly which, but there was this online forums that automatically replaces all "fuck" with "gently caress" and "shit" with "poo poo". I have to say, it made the forum extremely entertaining to read.

  8. Levi Montgomery said,

    August 7, 2010 @ 11:05 am

    "For me, at least, "feces" evokes a stronger reaction (specifically, of disgust), because it triggers a much more undiluted association with actual shit."

    This may seem like an odd and counter-intuitive point to make, but consider this corroborative evidence: As I crossed a parking lot, with two well-dressed women in front of me, one of them suddenly jumped, side-stepped, and began that familiar foot scrape. "Oh, shit!" she shouted. Her friend said "What?" The first woman said "I just stepped in dog doo!"

  9. Spectre-7 said,

    August 7, 2010 @ 11:10 am

    Okay, I give up. What is "[Television Critics Association] " a euphemism for?

    I suspect the esteemed Mr. Liberman is correct, but I prefer to imagine that [Television Critics Association] is replacing something wonderfully terrible and more challenging to euphemise, like cock-biting fuckwits.

  10. John Lawler said,

    August 7, 2010 @ 11:19 am

    This is a much better use for [square brackets] than [fnɛ:ks] is.

  11. Nathan said,

    August 7, 2010 @ 12:20 pm

    @John Lawler: fnex? Is that Slurvian?

  12. Rodger C said,

    August 7, 2010 @ 1:29 pm

    @Levi Montgomery: I happen to know that story is at least forty-odd years old. Maybe it happened again, though.

  13. Brian said,

    August 7, 2010 @ 2:22 pm

    I' d be surprised if it didn't happen on a regular basis. Heck, I couldn't swear that I haven't said those exact words myself, completely unaware of the ironic juxtaposition.

  14. Reinhold {Rey} Aman said,

    August 7, 2010 @ 2:27 pm

    @ Levi Montgomery
    This may seem like an odd and counter-intuitive point to make, but consider this corroborative evidence: As I crossed a parking lot, with two well-dressed women in front of me, one of them suddenly jumped, side-stepped, and began that familiar foot scrape. "Oh, shit!" she shouted. Her friend said "What?" The first woman said "I just stepped in dog doo!"

    Sorry, I don't believe your personal "corroborative evidence."

    This same "Oh, shit! — I just stepped in dog/doggie doo!" anecdote has been around for decades. Beginning some 35 years ago, I used to open my university lectures on taboo language with the same borrowed tale.

  15. George said,

    August 7, 2010 @ 2:33 pm

    This should have happened a number of times as we all have stepped in something messy. We often use the same expletive and sometimes it coincides with the original reference. What may be a little unusual is to notice the relationship.

  16. Chris Buckey said,

    August 7, 2010 @ 2:40 pm

    @ Larry Lard

    Actually, Something Awful only filters expletives for unsubscribed viewers of the forums. It was a solution to some silly tete-a-tete with Google over the amount of expletives they used or somesuch thing.

  17. Neal Goldfarb said,

    August 7, 2010 @ 2:59 pm

    "…deployed by Lisa de Moraes or her editors… "

    "The problem for de Moraes and the Post was that Sutter's response included one example of what the FCC once called 'an … expletive to emphasize an exclamation'."

    As a fan of de Moraes's columns, I'm willing to bet that the credit for this goes to her, not her editors (except for allowing it). And that she saw those fucks and shits, not as a problem, but as an opportunity.

  18. fs said,

    August 7, 2010 @ 3:09 pm

    @Larry Lard, Outis: Yes, that's the Something Awful forums (Outis remembered the filter more accurately). However, that censorship only shows up for unregistered users browsing the forum – once you log in, the word filters are turned off, and since logged in users are the main target audience for people posting there, nobody's shy about saying "fuck" or "shit" in their posts, thus making it all the funnier for guests :)

  19. George said,

    August 7, 2010 @ 3:13 pm

    I am not familiar with Something Awful. Does membership confer the privilege of writing expletives? Is the title anyway related to the permissible language?

  20. Rubrick said,

    August 7, 2010 @ 4:01 pm

    The replacement for "friggin'" would certainly look nice in print.

    The technique has its limits, though. What to do with "dipshit" or "asshat", for example?

  21. Spectre-7 said,

    August 7, 2010 @ 4:06 pm

    The technique has its limits, though. What to do with "dipshit" or "asshat", for example?

    May I suggest Honeydipper and derriere chapeau?

  22. Kapitano said,

    August 7, 2010 @ 4:13 pm

    What a complete and utter melonfarmer.

  23. fs said,

    August 7, 2010 @ 4:54 pm

    @George: somethingawful.com is a really old "humor" website which, in my opinion, has gone down the tubes in recent years. Its forums, however, are often the spawning grounds for popular internet memes such as the early "O RLY?", Zalgo (see http://www.eeemo.net/ ), Terrible Secret of Space, Put Yourself in My Shoes, etc., though another internet superpower, 4chan, has now surpassed it in that aspect. The Something Awful forums are famously broad in their scope of topics, and you can find all sorts of stuff being posted there which is totally unrelated to the main face of the website. There are, of course, sections of it which end up being more vulgar than others, such as the "FYAD" (Fuck You And Die) section where people basically just post incoherent nonsense as some form of group recreation, but on the whole I wouldn't say it's particularly more awful or obscene than any other internet forum. Indeed, the title "Something Awful" referred to the front page of the site where the owners would originally post various awful stuff they had found online, though it now sports more original humor articles. The forum has almost become a separate entity altogether. You cannot post in the forum unless you are a member (there is a US$10 membership fee, a rarity among internet forums which mostly allow free registration), so it's not a question of whether you're allowed to post expletives or not – you can post whatever you want, though the moderators are known to be somewhat impulsive with their banning privileges. The "censorship" filter which converts "fuck" to "gently caress" and "shit" to "poo poo" is simply implemented as a joke. It "censors" posts for viewers who are not logged in, but as (I suppose) it would be too annoying on a regular basis, it does not take effect when the viewer is logged in.

  24. David Harmon said,

    August 7, 2010 @ 10:04 pm

    This is not related to the original post, but I heard an amusing neologism the other day, that I thought you might be interested in. While hiking on a wilderness trail, my hiking partner said, "I think we're about topped out on this path", meaning that we'd passed all the upward parts to reach a level stretch at the end.

    Clearly a mutation of "tapped out" but likely prompted by recent events — our third guy had been overcome by heat and humidity, so he'd turned off to wait where we could drive back later to pick him up. He was tapped out!

  25. Windowless Monad said,

    August 8, 2010 @ 12:03 am

    I don't believe that the gorgeous absurdity of these substitutions wasn't obvious to the writer. Surely this was de Moraes' deliiberate response to editorial idiocy, or a great way to show up the idiocy of the publication's filtering software.

  26. fs said,

    August 8, 2010 @ 12:37 am

    @David Harmon: Actually, I've never heard your "tapped out", but I have heard "to top out" plenty of times. It means "to reach a maximum (possible) level", as in "my car['s speed] tops out at 340 mph" or "the company's stock topped out at $50/share before sinking like a stone to reach $1/share at the end of trading today", etc. Your friend's "we're about topped out" strikes me as a bit strange because "we" is not an easily numericalized entity – while on the other hand you can say "the car's doing 80 mph" or whatever – but seems entirely within the stretching limits of the phrase.

  27. Sili said,

    August 8, 2010 @ 1:32 am

    I'm disappointed this wasn't entitled Anals of [having sex] [feces].

  28. Levi Montgomery said,

    August 8, 2010 @ 7:54 am

    Yes, well, maybe so, but it only happened to me the one time, and having never heard it before, I thought it quite amusing.

  29. ignoramus said,

    August 8, 2010 @ 2:04 pm

    "It's a crock of [feces] and it's corrupting,"
    S/B"It's a crock of [turds] and it's corrupting,"

  30. James said,

    August 8, 2010 @ 4:35 pm

    In sympathy with NG's observation that "feces" is more, um, pungent than "shit": A copy editor of my acquaintance succeeded in changing "on the public tit" to " … teat."

  31. Colin John said,

    August 9, 2010 @ 7:53 am

    To 'top out' is to reach the top of a climb or a mountain. Try googling "top out on Everest". I would suggest that it's been pretty standard climbing usage since the 1970s at least, since that's when I started climbing and I don't remember ever thinking 'that's a new usage'.

  32. John Cowan said,

    August 9, 2010 @ 10:02 am

    It's not every Language Log post that reduces me to tears of helpless laughter.

  33. Mertseger said,

    August 9, 2010 @ 12:03 pm

    Speaking of "gently touch", the Fug-girls recently recapped a dreadful Jennifer Love Hewitt vehicle using "kind touch" (based upon the name of the massage parlor in the movie) throughout as a similar euphemism. See http://gofugyourself.celebuzz.com/go_fug_yourself/2010/08/fug_the_fromage_the_client_list_080310.html#more .

  34. KevinM said,

    August 9, 2010 @ 3:17 pm

    "Are you [having sex] kidding me?" – clearly an ungrammatical substitution.
    Should be "Are you [sex-having] kidding me?"

  35. April K said,

    August 10, 2010 @ 5:50 pm

    @ Rubrick
    re: what to do with asshat
    I'm reminded of a scene in Blast from the Past in which Alicia Silverstone refers to a store owner as a dickhead in front of the very naive Brendan Fraser. When he asks for an explaination, she says it means he's a penis with legs. This stops Brendan cold as the resulting mental image knocks him for a serious loop.

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