House of Turds

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The front page of the New York Daily News recently looked like this:

This calls to mind one of the most famous headlines in American newspaper history, from October 1975:

The "House of Turds" front page is a lingistic and visual pun on the poster for the Netflix series House of Cards, with John Boehner's face photoshopped in place of Kevin Spacey's:

The illustration in the online version of the paper is even more nakedly partisan (or, some would say, accurate):

With the overall approval rating of the U.S. Congress approaching single digits, and that of the national Republican Party apparently heading in that direction as well, this headline is likely to have a certain Luntzian value.


  1. jfruh said,

    October 1, 2013 @ 9:21 am

    Do you think the headline was originally conceived of as "House of Tards" before someone decided that was too offensive? "Turds" just doesn't seem like an obvious take on "cards" to me without that intermediate step.

    [(myl) "House of Tards" wouldn't work with the picture and its associated story — Frank Underwood is not stupid, he's cruel and vindictive. In my opinion, "House of Turds" is a much better caption.

    Update: it also raises the question of whether it's blood or feces dripping from Speaker Boehner's hands…]

  2. djw said,

    October 1, 2013 @ 9:38 am

    No problem for me to make the connection without the intermediate step, but it may have something to do with my political bent.

  3. GeorgeW said,

    October 1, 2013 @ 9:53 am

    "The illustration in the online version of the paper is even more nakedly partisan (or, some would say, accurate)"

    I am one of the aforementioned some. Great headline!

  4. Usual John said,

    October 1, 2013 @ 10:04 am

    I think jfruh is probably correct in his speculation that the original was "House of Tards" – a superior caption in some ways, but comparing John Boehner to people with low intellectual capacity is far too insulting to the latter.

    How far back do you have to go for "House of Turds" to be considered more offensive than "House of Tards"?

  5. jewelbomb said,

    October 1, 2013 @ 10:32 am

    Apparently characterizing the situation in DC accurately is somehow considered an act of partisanship. Good to know.

  6. Sili said,

    October 1, 2013 @ 11:15 am

    Reality. Liberal bias. Yaddah Yaddah.

  7. D.O. said,

    October 1, 2013 @ 11:24 am

    "Daily News" went in 38 years from "picture newspaper" to "hometown newspaper", but kept stylized image of a camera on it's nameplate. It is also of note, that it is now "sports final".

  8. jfruh said,

    October 1, 2013 @ 11:51 am

    [(myl) "House of Tards" wouldn't work with the picture and its associated story — Frank Underwood is not stupid, he's cruel and vindictive. In my opinion, "House of Turds" is a much better caption.]

    Yeah, but I think the joke would be that while Kevin Spacey's character is a Machiavellian mastermind, Boehner et al. have stumbled into this mess without much of a game plan.

    (I should say that I'm very glad that a newspaper thinks that "tards" is beyond the pale to use in a headline, but "turds" just nags at me as a non-obvious pun on "cards," so I'm curious how they got to it. Maybe it involves a Queens accent.)

  9. House of Turds – Aventar said,

    October 1, 2013 @ 12:00 pm

    […] Madeira –, quando, entretanto, me deparei com esta, que teve o condão de atrair a atenção do Language Log e de Paul Krugman. A história, em português europeu, é contada pelo Público. O senhor que faz […]

  10. J. W. Brewer said,

    October 1, 2013 @ 12:30 pm

    I think even for the "Picture Newspaper," for a tabloid headline to reach classic status (i.e. be remembered down the road after physical copies of that issue have all been recycled) it needs to be driven by pure wordplay without visual aids. Was "HEADLESS BODY IN TOPLESS BAR" accompanied by a picture of: a) the victim; b) the alleged perpetrator; c) the crime scene (bloodspattered); or d) the crime scene (in better days, with scantily-clad employees in the frame)? See, you don't know, because it doesn't matter. (You can google it, and the answer is b), fwiw.) The visual we remember of DEWEY BEATS TRUMAN is Truman gleefully holding up a copy after it had been proven false, not whatever picture (one might guess of Dewey?) appeared under the hed on the front page of the physical paper.

  11. Rubrick said,

    October 1, 2013 @ 3:22 pm

    @jfruh et al: Just wait till the Great Republican Cottage Cheese Scandal of 2016, when they'll get to split the difference with House of Curds.

  12. ShadowFox said,

    October 1, 2013 @ 3:30 pm

    I'm rather partial to the other pun on the page–D.C. cess-pols. Not exactly subtle, but multi-layered.

  13. Ken Brown said,

    October 1, 2013 @ 4:46 pm

    How far back? About 30 seconds for this Brit. It wouldn't have occured to me that "tard" was an insult at all until I read these comments. "Retard" isn't really part of my productive vocabulary. In my speech community the extreme offensive word that bears that meaning would probably be "spaz".

    As an aside, it would be wonderful if the US "House of Cards" (which I have never seen) was even half as good as the 1980s British series I believe its based on.

  14. Brett said,

    October 1, 2013 @ 5:02 pm

    @Ken Brown: The American series is good, but it's not astonishing in the way the way the British original was. Of course, the British sequels were far below the standard set by the original House of Cards as well. It's hard to duplicate artistic success.

  15. Kelt Locke said,

    October 1, 2013 @ 6:15 pm

    Forty years ago, a public radio station broadcast George Carlin's "Filthy Words" monologue about words not allowed on the airwaves, and the Supreme Court appended a transcript of the monologue to its decision in FCC v. Pacific Foundation, 438 U.S. 726 (1978). Carlin's monologue included these lines: "I found three more words that had to be put on the list of words you could never say on television, and they were fart, turd and twat, those three. (laughter) Fart, we talked about, it's harmless It's like tits, it's a cutie word, no problem. Turd, you can't say but who wants to, you know? (laughter)."

    Apparently, the word had more life in it than Carlin thought.

  16. J. W. Brewer said,

    October 1, 2013 @ 6:48 pm

    Interesting to see that the vintage headline has "Bail-Out" rather than "Bailout." Google n-gram (for AmEng corpus) confirms that the two variants were neck and neck back then (hyphenated slightly more common in '74 and slightly less common in '75) before the unhyphenated form began its rise to overwhelming dominance over the following quarter-century.

  17. Alexander said,

    October 1, 2013 @ 8:07 pm

    Even putting political correctness aside, "tard" seems to express a kind of flip cruelty in the speaker, like that of a high-school bully. I believe this is something you know if you use the term – and I doubt that's a tone the newspaper would want here. In contrast the use of "turd" expresses nothing about the speaker – or so it seems to me. It just means that its target is base and vile.

  18. Martha said,

    October 1, 2013 @ 11:10 pm

    It's not like I never call anyone that, but does anyone besides me find it extremely tacky that "turd" would be in a headline?

  19. the other Mark P said,

    October 2, 2013 @ 12:17 am

    It's not like I never call anyone that, but does anyone besides me find it extremely tacky that "turd" would be in a headline?

    Of course. But then they are trying to be offensive.

  20. Nick Lamb said,

    October 2, 2013 @ 4:50 am

    I somewhat agree with Brewer, the Sun's headline GOTCHA (for the controversial sinking of an ex-US navy ship by then renamed ARA General Belgrano, with the consequent loss of hundreds of lives) is famous _despite_ the fact that few people referencing it could even have seen that edition of the newspaper due to second thoughts by the editorial team. Nobody remembers the black and while file photo used to illustrate the story because it wasn't memorable.

    Likewise its headline "IT'S THE SUN WOT WON IT" for the 1992 UK general election in which the Conservatives won despite polls that indicated they would lose. Nobody remembers what else was on that cover, just the phrase, which has been recycled in other elections since, regardless of which side the populist Sun was supporting.

    And for some the last Sun headline they ever read was "THE TRUTH" for a story that has subsequently been retracted, about Liverpool (soccer) fans urinating on police, pickpocketing corpses and otherwise supposedly behaving abominably in the aftermath of a tragedy. Sun newspaper sales in Liverpool never recovered. Once again nobody remembers the mundane photographs accompanying the headline.

    At some point a US editor or sub-editor will get to justifiably write the headline "THE TEA PARTY IS OVER" and that, I think, might be a memorable headline without the accompaniment of an illustration to make its point.

  21. Language Log » House of Turds | Reason & Existenz said,

    October 2, 2013 @ 5:01 am

    […] via Language Log » House of Turds. […]

  22. fev said,

    October 2, 2013 @ 6:46 am

    @D.O, I don't work at the News, but "sports final" usually means the last edition of the night, with as many West Coast scores as possible.

    I too miss the days of "New York's Picture Newspaper." but it's nice to have bipartisan nekkid partisanship in big-city journalism again.

  23. Ginger Yellow said,

    October 2, 2013 @ 6:58 am

    It's not like I never call anyone that, but does anyone besides me find it extremely tacky that "turd" would be in a headline?

    It's a tabloid. It's their job to be tacky.

  24. Rodger C said,

    October 2, 2013 @ 8:10 am

    @Kelt Locke: I hadn't been aware of Carlin's expansion of his list. This iluminates Blink-182's illustrious contribution to an album of 30-second songs, which I won't link to because I'm on my work computer.

  25. Yuval said,

    October 2, 2013 @ 1:18 pm

    That's some pretty bad 'shopping of the T there, yessirree.

  26. J.W. Brewer said,

    October 2, 2013 @ 10:29 pm

    Today's NY Post front page has the hed "SHUT AND A BEER" (featuring quotes from furloughed federal workers the reporters found hanging around bars during what would otherwise have been office hours). While it's accompanied with a picture of what are claimed to be Smithsonian employees doing just that, the wordplay is transparent on its own.

  27. Uri said,

    October 3, 2013 @ 4:56 am

    @KenBrown: see see re the difference in offensiveness of spaz between UK and US english .

    Also, what about the affix -tard, as in freetard, celebutard or Avatard? Is the connection to retardation sufficiently transparent to make them offensive? I personally find freetard more offensive than the others (though also more useful); I guess that's purely due to the closer phonetic similarity to retard.

  28. Robin said,

    October 3, 2013 @ 7:13 pm

    My 29yo daughter is gluten intolerant, and her friends occasionally and affectionately refer to her as a "glutard." (I don't think they would use that phrase in polite company.) This thread has me wondering about the transformation from pejorative to pet name — I'm thinking here of geek, which used to mean "freak show," and now means something like "intelligent and hip." Is this a common trend?

  29. Lee said,

    October 4, 2013 @ 5:17 pm

    Robin: "Queer" used to be a pejorative for homosexual men, and is still controversial amongst some of the LGBT community. But much of the derogatory power has already been leached from the word, quite intentionally, to the point where you have television shows with titles like "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" (eventually called simply "Queer Eye"), which became a popular Emmy award winning hit. Words like "geek" and "(fill-in-the-affix)-tard" and "queer" are all susceptible to societal pressure, good or bad.

  30. Todd said,

    October 6, 2013 @ 2:43 pm

    @Robin: I've heard (for many years) "lactard" for people who are lactose-intolerant, so I'm not surprised to hear it spread to people who are gluten-intolerant.

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