Annals of unexpected bowdlerization

« previous post | next post »

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?

I scanned some of the other coverage in the vain hope of seeing an undisguised form of the quotation, but all I found was a few other odd lexical choices. For example, Ken Meyer renders the original "head-to-head" as the French borrowing "tete-a-tete", which normally means a private conversation rather than a direct conflict ("Michael Cohen Drops Bombshell: Trump Made Racist Comments, Said Black People ‘Too Stupid’ to Vote For Him", Mediaite 11/2/2018):

The last recollection Cohen had to offer was a moment when he was with Trump for a discussion about the season of The Apprentice that ended in a tete-a-tete between 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.’”

Update — I'm convinced by the arguments that f-g here mean "fucking".  But I was confused because something like f-ing is a more common euphemistic spelling, and also because Vanity Fair is normally fine with printing fucking uneuphemized, e.g. in  this 10/2/2018 article:

Last month, Osbourne gave a scorching interview about the gig to Howard Stern, responding to a question about why she did not participate in the show’s audition segments by saying, “Oh fuck, I don’t have to have those kids singing in my face. Those little shits. They all suck. It is like, ‘Hey, is this fucking karaoke or what?’” As for the show’s creator, Simon Cowell? Osbourne said he’s a “pain in the arse” who will stop at nothing to get his “fucking fat face on TV.” Cowell was not particularly bothered.



  1. Andrew Usher said,

    November 2, 2018 @ 11:13 pm

    I agree. Semantically appropriate also, and my first thought, is 'fucking' (adverb) – but 'f-g' is not a likely printing of that word.

    (In that case 'black' would be a noun. But I don't find 'black' = 'black person' particularly odd.)

    k_over_hbarc at

  2. Laura Morland said,

    November 3, 2018 @ 12:57 am

    I think it's definitely the adverb, "fucking." Replace "this black" with "him" and the sentence makes more sense (in Trumpian):

    "There's no way I can let him fucking win!"

    Some people do talk that way.

  3. Ben Zimmer said,

    November 3, 2018 @ 1:47 am

    On Twitter, it's mostly getting interpreted as "fucking," but some think it's "fag."

  4. Ben Zimmer said,

    November 3, 2018 @ 2:12 am

    Further supporting the "fucking" interpretation, when Nicolle Wallace was interviewing Emily Jane Fox on MSNBC, she read out the quote as "There's no way I can let this black bleeping win" (about 3 minutes into the video here).

  5. AG said,

    November 3, 2018 @ 3:29 am

    it's "fucking".

  6. AG said,

    November 3, 2018 @ 3:34 am

    (my evidence… none, just gut feeling that Trump probably constantly refers to black people as "blacks", probably constantly peppers his conversation with "fucking", and probably wouldn't ever come up with the word combination "black fag", and definitely wouldn't ever be able to naturally say "black fag" without his dentures falling out or whatever was happening here: )

  7. Dan Romer said,

    November 3, 2018 @ 7:46 am

    It’s frog!

  8. Ellen K. said,

    November 3, 2018 @ 8:24 am

    I wonder if it was meant to be a dash instead of a hyphen. That is, a longer line. I did initially read it as "fag", which didn't make sense because I don't think that's an insult Trump would use. After reading Andrew's comment and realizing black should be read as a noun, "fucking" made sense. (After reading the original post with the update, I could not figure out how fucking made sense grammatically. Not till I read the comments.)

  9. DaveK said,

    November 3, 2018 @ 8:54 am

    I read it as “fucking”. It has to be a two-syllable word or the rhythm of the sentence sounds unnatural.

  10. J.W. Brewer said,

    November 3, 2018 @ 10:25 am

    This reminds me of an interesting bit of evidence of shifting priorities in taboos (i.e. what is comparatively more taboo v. less taboo) I recently came across. The 1985 debut LP by pioneering Philadelphia rapper Schoolly D has a track titled "I Don't LIke Rock & Roll," which includes the lyric "all you long-haired faggots can kiss my ass." The video for the number, at least in the version I found floating around on youtube, has the word "ass" bleeped out, presumably in deference to someone-or-other's delicate mid-Eighties sensibilities, but leaves "faggots" unexpurgated.

    But things have shifted over the intervening decades such that I have no difficulty imagining a publication that would refuse to print "fucking" in full doing likewise with "fag," although I have no answer to the puzzlement here that Vanity Fair's practice in other contexts is to print both words in full.

  11. RolyH said,

    November 3, 2018 @ 10:58 am

    Reminds me of an incident many years ago on Peter Gzowski's morning radio show on CBC. The show was live, which meant live to the Atlantic time zone and played back at one hour intervals to the rest of Canada. On the live show a guest referred to “the whole fucking thing”. It was decided that this was a little strong for the rest of the country and the offending word would be bleeped on the fly. Unfortunately the technician was a little slow off the mark and what the country heard was “the whole fucking **bleep**”, leaving the listeners wondering what mega-offensive word he could have used.

  12. Andrew Usher said,

    November 3, 2018 @ 5:38 pm

    So then I guess the question is how 'fucking' would end up as 'f-g' – regardless of the length of the dash (and I haven't seen the original), I don't think that's a kind of euphemising that Americans are used to seeing anymore (it used to be more common).

  13. Joe Fineman said,

    November 3, 2018 @ 7:28 pm

    A version of "The Tinker" that I learned in Scotland contains the wonderful line
    "For the heat of the fucking fucking fucking decomposed his arse"
    —adjective, noun, and (as in this example) adverb without interruption.

  14. Tom Dawkes said,

    November 4, 2018 @ 4:08 pm

    In his study of language A Mouthful of Air (1992) Anthony Burgess … during the 1939-45 war, when he was stationed in Gibraltar in the Army Education Corps … remembers how a certain word popular among his fellow soldiers was used to denote frustration:
    … ‘Fucking’, it is true, can be used as a neutral intensifier in ‘fucking good’ and ‘fucking stupid’, but to be ‘fucked’ or participate in a state of ‘fuckup’ is to be in a state of distress. I once heard an army motor mechanic complain of his recalcitrant engine by crying ‘Fuck it, the fucking fucker’s fucking fucked.’

  15. Philip Taylor said,

    November 5, 2018 @ 11:56 am

    I first encountered the expression "f*** all" when I was sixteen, and had to have it explained to me. My immediate reaction was "Then surely it should be "f*** nothing". My interlocutor seemed completely perplexed by this suggestion, but it seemed perfectly reasonable to me.

  16. Robert Coren said,

    November 5, 2018 @ 8:42 pm

    "f-g" for "fucking" reminds me of another life when I was employed in the computer industry, and working at a place that, among other things, dealt with the concepts of "internationalization" and "localization", which, because the words were so long and therefore a pain to type, were generally abbreviated as "i18n" and "l10n" respectively, where the digits indicated the number of elided letters.

    Then one day I was copied on a piece of email that mentioned difficulties dealing with "the f5g makefiles", and it took me a moment to figure out what the writer meant.

  17. chris said,

    November 7, 2018 @ 10:53 pm

    Wasn't it Trump who once claimed to have "a great relationship with the blacks", to which critics/opponents replied that if he did he probably would be calling them something else?

    If so, that would support the interpretation that he used "black" as a noun meaning "black person", even though that's otherwise a strange usage.

    Or maybe it's a regionalism/dialect issue, since other commenters on this thread seem to have varying opinions on how strange it is. We could probably have a whole thread on which terms for groups of people can be nouned freely, and which ones are obligate adjectives that require a suitable head noun. Or maybe there's already been one.

    In any case I agree that "f-g" is an unusual way of bowdlerizing "fucking".

    P.S. There's also the possibility of mishearing: "there's no way I can let this black fucker win" is a completely natural way (ISTM) of expressing that particular sentiment.

RSS feed for comments on this post