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They printed THAT?

CAUTION TO READERS OF TENDER SENSIBILITIES:

VULGAR WORDS BELOW; YOU MAY WISH TO TURN BACK

 

A couple of days ago, the free paper b, also a product of the Baltimore Sun Media Group, came out with this headline on the cover:

DOUCHEBAG!

The article inside listed the qualities that one would possess at various levels of proficiency in this category, along with a listing of models to emulate from history and contemporary society. It appears that I, despite a lifetime of effort, do not rank very high.

The publication of this headline occasioned considerable commentary among members of the Sun staff, some of whom complained to Anne Tallent, the editor of b, and to Tim Ryan, the publisher of the Baltimore Sun Media Group. Ms. Tallent responded that her readers are of a different sensibility than the readers of The Sun and are not inclined to find the word objectionable. She did not suggest that the members of The Sun’s staff are a bunch of dusty old fogies, but I fear that some of my colleagues may have drawn an inference.

She is right, I think, to identify a generational divide in sensitivity to opprobrious terms. As I have discovered in exchanges with my students, the popular verb sucks conveys contempt for low quality, without the connotation of a certain very personal service that tends to occur to older readers. Similarly, it often comes as news to them that the disparaging term scumbag originally referred to a condom, perhaps a used one — (What is the man teaching at Loyola?).

I asked my copy-editing class today about douchebag, with these results: They gasped and snickered; they know the origin of the term as well as its contemporary use; they would not have used the word in a headline. Not a significant sampling, I concede, and it’s possible that they were telling me what they imagined I wanted to hear. But still.

I don’t think that we have got quite so far beyond shock as Ms. Tallent thinks. The comedy of Lewis Black appears to require frequent repetition of one of the most popular Anglo-Saxon verbs, each occasion of which sends the audience into a mild frisson of delight. It doesn’t seem altogether unlikely that the display of such vulgarities appears to a lingering adolescent delight in bad words in public. That is one reason to refrain: not to appear childish.

But English is a language of extensive resources of abuse, and should b require further supplies, I suggest that the staff could turn to the ever-instructive Dictionary of Slang and Euphemism by Richard A. Spears. Here’s a sampling from the entry oaf:

ADDLE-HEAD, BEETLE-BRAIN, BLUNDERHEAD, BONEHEAD, BOOB, BUMPKIN, CALF-LOLLY, CHUMP, CLUCK, DIMBO, DING-DONG, DINK, DODDYPOLL, DOODLE, DORK, DORKMUNDER, DROMEDARY, DONGO, DROOB, DUNDERHEAD, DWEEB, GALLOOT, GAWBY, GAZOOK, GEEK, GOOFUS, GUFFIN, GUMSUCKER, HAMMERHEAD, HERKIMER JERKIMER, HORKIE, JABBERNOL, JACKASS, JORK, JOSKIN, JUGGIONS, KLOTZ, KLUCK, LACKWIT, LIRRIPOOP, LOBBUS, LUBBER, LUG, LUG-LOAF, LUMMOX, LUMPUS, MOKE, MOONCALF, MOPE, MUGGINS, MULLET-HEAD, MUTTONHEAD, NEDDY, NEWT, NIDDIPOL, NIMROD, NING-NONG, NINNYHAMMER, NOBBY, NODDY, NOLT, OOFUS, PASTE EATER, REUBEN, SAPSKULL, SAUSAGE, SCHLUB, SCHMENDRICK, SHATTERBRAIN, SIMKIN, SLUBBERDEGULLION, SOP, SOZZLE, SPLODGER, STOOPNAGEL, STOT, TWINK, TWIT, UMP-CHAY, UNDERWIT, WAFFLES, WAG-WIT, WARB, WET-SOCK, YACK, YAP, YOB, YOCK, YOLD, YO-YO, ZERK, ZIZ, ZONK, ZONKO and ZOUCH.

 

 

Posted by John McIntyre at 3:36 PM | | Comments (33)
        

Comments

There is another Sun blog that purports to be "The Only Blog You'll Ever Need".

However, I didn't know until just now, the origin of the word "scumbag".

So I guess we still need two.

Hey, Buckster, don't forget Sessa, or he will pout. Now hurry back home. Short visits are nice, but there's no place like home.

"It appears that I, despite a lifetime of effort, do not rank very high."

I honestly don't think you were trying that hard.

Ah, 'scumbag.' Still au courant when the Fugs recorded their tender love song "Saran Wrap" for the 1966 album "Virgin Fugs."

That album also included a quite tuneful rendition of the 10 Commandments.

At first I wanted to congratulate the writers of b for using a polysyllabic word; however, douchebag is technically a compound word.

Oh, to hell with technicalities. I say free candy and red balloons for all the writers of b. Job well done young Woodwards and Bernsteins

RtSO wrote: ...don't forget Sessa, or he will pout.

I don't forget him. It's just that his blog is quite Baltimore-centric and I'm...well...not. (Not a criticism; that's his mission.)

Plus, I lean more to Robert Earl Keen, Jr. (playing at the Rams Head On Stage in Annapolis on 11/13/08.) I don't see much country in his blog. (Even of the Texas party rock variety.)

Bucky wrote: "However, I didn't know until just now, the origin of the word "scumbag"."

Personally, I prefer "Scum-sucking pig." I, of course, am talking about pond scum in the hog wallow.

Mr. McIntyre,

I feel like there may be a certain level of factual inaccuracy in your post. In referring to the comments of Ms. Anne Tallent, the editor of the free paper, b, you have repeated her assertion that there are, in fact, readers of that paper.

I cannot imagine this is the case. Please advise.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a 20-something male who occasionally uses the offending headline word in conversation with peers. I think we will stick to our own colloquial uses of the word and pass on relying upon b for any illumination on the subject.

(Lifted from IMDB.com):
"Don't be a luddy-duddy! Don't be a mooncalf! Don't be a jabbernowl! You're not those, are you?"
--Egbert Souse, "The Bank Dick"

I suppose if W.C. Fields were around today, it's conceivable to hear him say "Don't be a douchebag." But it wouldn't be as fun.

But John, would all of those synonyms for "oaf" be good alternatives? Some are also slang for penis: ding-dong, for example, and apparently, dork. I learned that last bit of etymology from cartoonist Gary Larson's The PreHistory of the Far Side.

Also, is "ump-chay" just pig latin?

When these b writers grow up and move on, will they include pieces entitled "Douchebag" in their portfolios? In the course of interviewing, will they look some old fart editor in the face and discuss these pieces with pride? Is their only career move to the tabloids?

(I saw the Fugs perform in The Village.)

Bucky, how sad that I learned from a resident of CO that Robert Earl Keen will be playing Annapolis this fall! Not that I'm out of it or anything . . . Need to line up someone to go with me!

Oh - to comment on the actual topic of the post. I saw this headline in the paperbox as I was walking the dogs the other morning. It certainly made me do a double-take, but then I didn't give it much more thought. I suppose I'm becoming accustomed to the coarsening of the culture. And, of course, I NEVER use questionable language myself . . . ahem (sound of guilty throat clearing).

At least someone reads B, I guess you have to be one of the remaining sunstaffers to do so.

I hate to be overly simplistic, but either everything is ok to write about, or nothing is.

Wow, quite a few Sandboxers have made a visit!

to add to the list for oaf, how about a new one (from that movie):

gump

oh well, back to the friendly confines...

It's not like they printed 'Chocha Caliente' or something.
Douchebag is such a common word -- this is much ado about nothing.

KristinB - why don't you line up the entire Sandbox to go with you? Make it a Road Goes On Forever field trip...

(Do they serve long-neck Lone Stars at the Rams Head On Stage?)

OK, Mr. McIntyre...I'll stop. No, really. I promise.

As I have discovered in exchanges with my students, the popular verb sucks conveys contempt for low quality, without the connotation of a certain very personal service that tends to occur to older readers.

Now, Mr. McIntyre, I'm sure this "very personal service" occurs to younger readers as well, on occasion.

b is just loathsome. at least this serves to call them out about their beastly product, but they'll probably consider the notoriety a badge of honor.

Actually, the current proper usage is the shorter form, "Douche" - as in "What a douche!" or "He is such a douche!"

And it always seems to refer to men.

Richard A. Spears left out Moop.

When I took your class, Professor, it never got more exciting than learning the difference between a dike and a dyke.

So who were they calling a douchebag?

Bucky,
They have lots of beers at the Rams Head, but the best is their own, Fordham's.

Oh Bourbon Girl, there you are. Trampoline!

Using a douchebag is not recommended by health officials any more. Wikipedia says when the word is used in a slang context it refers to an arrogant and malicious person. I knew it was something bad, but really didn't know that it just refers to arrogant and malicious bad people, not all bad people. So if a person is just a jerk, the term may not fit. Now you can use the word with precision.

I can't say I was surprised in the least at the B using a word like that in a headline.
It's about the only daring thing I've seen from it in several visits to Baltimore since its launch, so kudos for that.
Seriously, though, I don't know what I would have done if I were there. I can't see the problem, if only because any readers, whomever they are, who would be offended can read the Sun or the City Paper.
And while I've heard people verbally object at the use of many off-color words, that is not one of them, simply because it's not offensive to younger people. Whether that's a good societal norm isn't important here.

The notion that the words "scumbag" and "sucks" may evoke the images you suggest for some older people is news to me as a 31-year-old Australian. I wonder to what extent a public survey would confirm your description of the generational divide.

Over here the place of the word "scumbag" in popular culture owes a lot to ex Prime Minister Paul Keating, due to his much-parodied use of the word circa 1990 (see http://www.webcity.com.au/keating/ for example). I suspect that is why the card game popularly known as "President" in America and as "Arsehole" in Britain is usually known as "Warlords and Scumbags" in Australia.

Someone actually remembers the Fugs?

"Monday, nothing, Tuesday, nothing, Wednesday and Thursday, nothing...."

I'm in my 40s and didn't find the headline offensive at all. Having seen b several times, I found it attention getting.

I read the story too. It was pretty damn funny and good morning read.

What I find offensive is the Sun's lack of investigative journalism focused on the important issues of our city. How about a detailed assesment about how slots could lower the property tax rate? How about a look into the how the local banks we have will weather this credit crunch storm? Maybe smaller pictures and more words.

The Sun, frankly, has let us down here in Baltimore.

Makes you wonder if the staff of the Sun used this word internally in the last several months.

John, do you realize that the forces of evil are still featuring this four day old post to promote b on the Sun web page. You are playing into their hands.

Imagine this scene....

Dude, that old dude with the bowtie just gave us some asstastic pub [publicity].

Yah, and like how ancient is that werd nerd? He's gotta be like 30 'cause he's got no piercings or tats and just doesn't get that writing doesn't need rulez.

Hey Grombooger, what other stuff can we print to raze up some righteous indignation with those old people with their uh, worditude and grammary bitchcakiness so's we can get some more free pub?

How 'bout just a pitcher of Sara Palin on the front page with "GILF" in red dripping like blood?

Okay Tacklebox Face, do it! This is like we're the freakin' Citizen Caine Mutineers! Celebration toke! Pass me the bowl Skrote Knob. Did you call your guy about the s***?

Did someone chant Owl Meat three times? Mistake.

I really liked b's exposé/celebration of flip-flop footwear on the front page this summer.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at john.mcintyre@baltsun.com.
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