Jeremy who?

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Lane Greene writes:

This has happened an astonishing number of times.

He's considered about the "fourth front-runner" for the Tory leadership (and hence the prime ministership) if such a thing exists. In any case he's prominent enough that we'll hear it a lot more. I tried to explain on Twitter the anticipation effect that makes

"Jeremy Cunt, the culture secretary…"

slightly more likely. But it kept happening when he became health secretary, foreign secretary… Does the fact that it's such a tempting taboo word make this more likely somehow? What's going on?



43 Comments

  1. Keith said,

    June 10, 2019 @ 2:34 pm

    It might just be because a great many people in th eUK have a very, very low opinion of him.

  2. Cindy said,

    June 10, 2019 @ 2:38 pm

    As an American more familiar with Jeremy Corbyn, I wonder if the leading K sound is because they expect to say Corbyn then change to Hunt too late.

  3. Chiara Maqueda said,

    June 10, 2019 @ 2:46 pm

    Clearly, the Minister for Rhyming Slang.

  4. Philip Taylor said,

    June 10, 2019 @ 2:55 pm

    Even my GP, not a man who would normally ever swear in front of a patient, once referred to him as "Hunt the c***" when he was Secretary of State for Health and Social Care.

  5. Pflaumbaum said,

    June 10, 2019 @ 3:16 pm

    Much as I'm not a fan of Hunt, Cindy's Jeremy Corbyn theory seems very compelling to me.

    A simple test would be whether the incidence of this slip has increased since Corbyn rose to prominence in 2015.

  6. Bob Ladd said,

    June 10, 2019 @ 3:23 pm

    @Pflaumbaum – If I remember correctly, the first publicly embarrassing slip of this sort was a few years before Corbyn became Labour leader.

  7. RP said,

    June 10, 2019 @ 3:44 pm

    The "Corbyn" theory sounds weak to me. The two men aren't easily confused. "Jeremy" isn't all that rare a name. Granted, those are probably the most prominent two Jeremies in the land nowadays, but I've never known anyone muddle the two Jeremies up.

  8. Pflaumbaum said,

    June 10, 2019 @ 3:51 pm

    @ Bob Ladd

    It was – though the most famous one, alluded to by MYL above, had an equally clear anticipation effect with "Culture Secretary".

    My claim is that if Cindy's theory is right the frequency of the error should have increased after Corbyn became leader.

    @ RP

    Right – Corbyn is the most prominent Jeremy in public life. Anyone talking about politics in the media says "Jeremy Corbyn" multiple times daily, so anticipating the plosive seems fairly likely to me.

    The fact that you haven't noticed anyone muddle them up doesn't prove much – the number of "Jeremy Cunt" slips is a minute fraction of the total instances of broadcasters saying his name, it's a tiny effect we're looking to explain.

  9. RP said,

    June 10, 2019 @ 4:13 pm

    I wonder if there's an element of knowing that other people have made the same mistake, and therefore being conscious of the potential to slip up that way, thus somehow making it easier to accidentally repeat the error.

  10. Gregory Kusnick said,

    June 10, 2019 @ 4:32 pm

    Here's another hypothesis: production errors of this sort happen all the time, but nobody makes blooper reels of them unless the error happens to produce something titillating. The fact that we notice a lot of Jeremy Cunt errors is not evidence that his name is an unusually fruitful source of such errors.

  11. Pflaumbaum said,

    June 10, 2019 @ 4:42 pm

    Good point, Gregory Kusnick

    However, I'm going to totally ignore it and point out that the other really prominent British Jeremy – the broadcaster Jeremy Clarkson – is another "C" (and also happens to be another… no I'll stop there).

  12. RP said,

    June 10, 2019 @ 4:51 pm

    @Pflaumbaum,
    For me, the other Jeremies that sprang to mind initially were Beadle (who is dead) and Paxman (who is a lot less prominent than he used to be) – but there's also Jeremy Kyle, who's a third Jeremy /k/ with Corbyn and Clarkson.

  13. Andrew Usher said,

    June 10, 2019 @ 6:28 pm

    I, too, think that slip-ups in uttering people's names are not that extremely rare. Only the fact that, in the case, the most likely slip leads to a taboo word, makes people remember every one.

    "Hunt" is not a very rare name; has anyone else with that name ever been butchered in the same manner, that anyone has heard of? The 'priming effect' theory would make it seem that it should happen, because /k/ sounds are hardly rare.

    k_over_hbarc at yahoo.com

  14. cameron said,

    June 10, 2019 @ 6:45 pm

    Are there any examples of actual rhyming slang uses? Someone being referred to as "a right Jeremy", or something similar?

  15. Ursa Major said,

    June 10, 2019 @ 8:04 pm

    I heard/read somewhere that it is his usual nickname in the BBC (and other UK media) offices, so its not very surprising that it slips out when they are on air.

  16. Keith said,

    June 10, 2019 @ 11:47 pm

    The last famous "Hunt" that I can remember was James Hunt, a formula 1 racing driver.

    His nickname "Hunt the Shunt" is explained in the Wikipedia article about him.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Hunt

    And yes, friends working in the NHS confirm that they have long used the term "a right Jeremy" as an insult.

  17. Bruce Stephens said,

    June 11, 2019 @ 4:25 am

    https://newsthump.com/2019/06/11/hearing-bbc-presenters-accidentally-say-jeremy-cnt-is-worth-the-license-fee-alone-confirm-viewers/ suggests his being Culture Secretary wouldn't have helped.

  18. Ouen said,

    June 11, 2019 @ 4:44 am

    His successor as Health Secretary was Matt Hancock. A name that is, perhaps appropriately for the role, also evocative of human anatomy

  19. J.W. Brewer said,

    June 11, 2019 @ 7:00 am

    1. For my money, the best rhyming slang is clipped rhyming slang, where the rhyming part is lost, rendering the connection to the original referent completely opaque. Which leads me to wonder if anyone has referred to Mr. Hunt (either accidentally or on purpose) as "Jeremy Berk." FWIW, there do appear to be a few real people in the U.S. really named Jeremy Berk …

    2. The UK taboo about the particular taboo word is not actually all that taboo, because it can be circumvented in a nudge-nudge-wink-wink kind of fashion. Or at least that's the inference I draw from the fact that way back 40 years ago the late Kenny Everett's TV show had a running character (sort of a ditzy blonde starlet, portrayed by Kenny in drag) with the Spooneristic name "Cupid Stunt," and was not banned from the airwaves as a consequence.

  20. Jon said,

    June 11, 2019 @ 7:51 am

    JW Brewer –
    As I recall, Cupid Stunt was only named once or twice, but kept appearing on the show. I assumed that Kenny Everett had been told that he mustn't use that name.

    And Kenny had previously famously said on his BBC radio show, "When England was a kingdom, we had a king. When we were an empire, we had an emperor. Now we're a country, and we have Margaret Thatcher."

  21. Chris Button said,

    June 11, 2019 @ 8:34 am

    Brings to mind how [k] is /hi/ in Pirahã (albeit in this case the /i/ is coming first)–not a primary reason but I wonder if it is facilitating it…

  22. J.W. Brewer said,

    June 11, 2019 @ 9:16 am

    @Jon: Quoth wikipedia: "Her original name, Mary Hinge, was vetoed by the [BBC] as too obvious and announcers were encouraged to refer to her as Cupid to prevent mispronunciation." While no one has annotated that sentence with [citation needed] one does wonder if the story is more complicated.

  23. Robert Coren said,

    June 11, 2019 @ 10:14 am

    Not for nothing, I know someone named Michael Hunt. For reasons that should be obvious in this context, he does not go by "Mike". Still, you'd think his parents would have anticipated the possibility.

    I'm a USAn, and it's my understanding that in the UK "cunt", while still in the "taboo" category, is considered somewhat less offensive than it is in the US.

  24. Terry Hunt said,

    June 11, 2019 @ 10:31 am

    @ Andrew Usher
    "Hunt" is not a very rare name; has anyone else with that name ever been butchered in the same manner, that anyone has heard of?

    As the bearer of said surname myself, I can assure you that I, and I suspect every other male in the UK with it, was routinely subjected to the deliberate replacement of 'H' by 'C' by other non-friendly males in secondary school. (My impression is that females rarely used the 'c-word' as an insult in the 20th century: this seems latterly to have changed.)

    I'm not aware of anyone making the substitution accidentally in third party discourse about me, but then people not in the public eye do not have such discourse routinely preserved by the news media, so would not be aware of them. For thus-named people who are prominent, I would think deliberate or accidental 'butchering' in this way to be respectively crude or embarrassing (the latter for both parties), but would not find it particularly surprising.

  25. Keith said,

    June 11, 2019 @ 10:36 am

    @J.W. Brewer

    I at first thought that the Mary Hinge joke was Mary Hinge -> M Hinge -> Minge.

    Only on googling did I find that it was another spoonerism.

    And that led me to a post on a pilots' website, linking to a story about racehorses.
    The link to Yahoo's European sports coverage has wilted, and the Wayback Machine's archived copy is no use.

    :-/

  26. Gabriel Holbrow said,

    June 11, 2019 @ 11:03 am

    This seems similar to the metrologist in Rochester, New York who refered to "Martin Luther King Jr. Park" as "Martin Luther [racial slur] Jr. Park", as discussed previously on Language Log:
    https://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=41380

    The parallels and differences with these two cases are interesting to me. As for the parallels, in both cases commenters on Language Log offered hypotheses that the speech error was because (a) the following word primed the insulting pronunciation, or (incompatibly?) (b) the speaker regularly used the insult as a joke — off camera — and so was used to saying it that way.

  27. Dominic said,

    June 11, 2019 @ 11:12 am

    Some nice theories there. Can I add a not very serious point – what about the sound shift in western 'centum' Indoeuropean from k to h in Germanic? Might this be a reversal ?! :)

  28. Pflaumbaum said,

    June 11, 2019 @ 4:20 pm

    @ Dominic

    Well something like that change is postulated for proto-Germanic by Cowgill's Law:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cowgill%27s_law

    The word "cunt" itself is etymologically unclear, with that /k/ shared by both Germanic and Latin suggesting a loan, but I don't think there are any very satisfactory reconstructions.

  29. Ellen K. said,

    June 11, 2019 @ 5:54 pm

    It seems to me that the similarity between an H and a K sound (at least when it's a strongly pronounced H) is part of the picture.

  30. Trogluddite said,

    June 11, 2019 @ 9:56 pm

    @J W Brewer: said; "Which leads me to wonder if anyone has referred to Mr. Hunt (either accidentally or on purpose) as "Jeremy Berk."
    I haven't seen that anywhere, but I've seen the epithet "Berkshire" pop up a few times in the magazine Private Eye (possibly elsewhere too, but that's a source that came to memory and to hand). My personal impression is that even most BrE speakers are unaware of the rhyming slang origin of "berk", and it's an insult that I very rarely hear used these days.

  31. Singing Hedgehog said,

    June 12, 2019 @ 6:39 am

    A senior English Cathedral musician of the same surname was widely known as Waddock. It even appeared in Private Eye.

  32. Rodger C said,

    June 12, 2019 @ 9:57 am

    It seems to me that the similarity between an H and a K sound (at least when it's a strongly pronounced H) is part of the picture.

    Cf. the Spanish joder 'fuck' < futuere, which ought to be *hoder, with silent h for about the last 500 years, but which has retained /h/ due to its frequent use as an exclamation.

  33. Pflaumbaum said,

    June 12, 2019 @ 4:05 pm

    Hmm… that explanation seems a bit of a stretch.

    The /f/ > /h/ reflex is not very regular anyway – in quite a lot of words /f/ survives.

  34. Andrew Usher said,

    June 12, 2019 @ 9:08 pm

    I've heard it before, though, and I believe that other words with /f/ are Latinisms. Of course 'joder' in Spain (the only place it's still used as an expletive) has /x/, not /h/ – but strengthening of /h/ to /x/ in a language that already has the latter is not very surprising. I think it even happens in English occasionally, and we mostly don't have /x/.

  35. Pflaumbaum said,

    June 13, 2019 @ 6:45 am

    I'd be surprised if they were Latinisms, because the rest of their phonology usually obeys the regular sound laws.

    If you were reconstructing a learned latinate word from "focus", you wouldn't come up with "fuego" (so for instance the later latinisation "focalizad" – not "*fuegalizad"). So that pushes the supposed latinisation back very early. And also raises the question why the adjective form "hogar" was not replaced with a latinate form.

    More likely, I think, there was dialectal variation in the /f/ > /h/ change, and different words from different dialects won out.

  36. Andrew Usher said,

    June 13, 2019 @ 9:30 pm

    I agree 'fuego' is not a Latinism – however, it is regular, as the change usually failed before a glide. Cf. 'hogar' as you just cited, with no glide interposed.

    The change _was_ very early, starting in the 7c. perhaps, with the new /h/ surviving long enough to become part of standard spelling. There is no doubt that dialectal variation existed; though complete in the standard, borrowing from dialects where it had not happened is quite plausible (as with many German words that seem to have escaped the High German shift) but unlikely for a basic word like 'fuego'.

  37. Pflaumbaum said,

    June 14, 2019 @ 11:35 am

    Ah I see, makes sense.

  38. The curse of Jeremy Hunt: why his name is hard to say – Magic Reading said,

    June 21, 2019 @ 12:30 am

    […] even a Viz cartoon about it – experts at the University of Pennysylvania's Language Log started asking why. "I wonder if the leading K sound is because they expect to say Corbyn then change to Hunt too […]

  39. La malédiction de Jeremy Hunt: pourquoi son nom est difficile à dire – My WordPress Website said,

    June 21, 2019 @ 12:34 am

    […] a même un Savoir cartoon – les experts de l'Université de Pennysylvania Langue du Journal a commencé à se demander pourquoi. "Je me demande si le premier K son est parce qu'ils s'attendent à-dire Corbyn puis […]

  40. Friday briefing: Trump gave 'initial approval' for Iran strike | World news - Papa Mar News Now said,

    June 21, 2019 @ 1:24 am

    […] Hunt set to stay in the headlines, Pennysylvania's Language Log started asking why some broadcasters have stumbled over his name, replacing the H with a C: "I wonder if the leading […]

  41. Friday briefing: Trump gave 'initial approval' for Iran strike – The Guardian | Everyday News Update said,

    June 21, 2019 @ 1:38 am

    […] Hunt set to stay in the headlines, Pennysylvania's Language Log started asking why some broadcasters have stumbled over his name, replacing the H with a C: "I wonder if the leading […]

  42. Austen said,

    June 21, 2019 @ 2:59 am

    I believe its something to do with the flow-on from Jeremy. There is an Australian athlete, Carmichael Hunt, who's name for obvious reasons is sometimes made into said word. However, that's always deliberate, and I don't think its very easy to accidentally mis-pronounce his surname in that way. However, the je-re-me-hunt seems almost more natural to pronounce as je-re-meec-unt. I wanted to say maybe it comes from the McXX surname construct, but I think its something more fundamental to the pronunciation. Certainly nothing to do with being minister for culture, as I always thought his name was easy to mis-pronounce in that way, but had no idea he was minister for that until today..

  43. The curse of Jeremy Hunt: why his name is hard to say – befarmed.wordpress.com said,

    June 22, 2019 @ 1:20 am

    […] even a Viz cartoon about it – experts at the University of Pennysylvania's Language Log started asking why. "I wonder if the leading K sound is because they expect to say Corbyn then change to Hunt too […]

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