Treasure Trove of Trash Talk

If we needed any more proof that swear words are a legislative and judicial Pandora’s Box of insanity, Jay Wexler brings up the recent hilarious Supreme Court case between the FCC and Fox TV. Justice Scalia made this curious remark:

“Don’t use golly waddles instead of the F word.”

Wexler suspected that Scalia improvised “golly waddles”[1] and consulted language expert and Harvard Psych prof Steven Pinker, who confirmed the invention, and who then proceeded to let loose this handy list of polite and/or archaic euphamisms for such things.

“I am pretty sure that Scalia made up ‘golly waddles’ on the spot. He needed a hypothetical term that was not “f*ck,” and so used that; I don’t think it was an allusion to any commonly used euphemism. On the other hand he was certainly influenced by the truncated profanities for “God” that are ubiquitous in polite speech, such as golly, gosh, egad, gad, gadzooks, good grief, goodness gracious, Great Caesar’s ghost, and Great Scott. Similar truncations pop up for just about every taboo term, including Jesus (gee, gee whiz, gee willikers, geez, jeepers creepers, Jiminy Cricket, Judas Priest, Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat), sh*t (shame, sheesh, shivers, shoot, shucks, squat, sugar), and f*ck (fiddlesticks, fiddledeedee, foo, fudge, fug, fuzz, flaming, flipping, freaking, frigging, effing). I’m not sure why he felt he needed a second word in his hypothetical euphemism, but it may have been inspired by the prevalence of two-part euphemisms for bullsh*t, like applesauce, balderdash, blatherskite, claptrap, codswallop, flapdoodle, hogwash, horsefeathers, humbug, moonshine, poppycock, tommyrot.”

Truly amazing is the human capacity for human linguistic invention, especially in finding safe alternatives for the “magic” words. I wonder if any of the outmoded examples were as weighty in their heyday. People forget that a lot of swear words from a hundred years ago are teethless and innocuous today.

UPDATE: After ruminating on “golly waddles” I think Scalia may have meant “mollycoddles.”

1.) Of course, Scalia is old as the hills, so you never know if he’s using some Depression-era Jersey slang.

3 thoughts on “Treasure Trove of Trash Talk”

  1. [Feel free to bowdlerize as needed.]

    I call BS on this so-called “language expert.” Not every word synonymous with nonsense is a euphemism for bullshit. For instance, the dictionary application on my Mac has the following to say about balderdash:

    balderdash |ˈbôldərˌda sh |
    senseless talk or writing; nonsense : she dismissed talk of plots as “bunkum and balderdash.”

    ORIGIN late 16th cent. (denoting a frothy liquid; later, an unappetizing mixture of drinks): of unknown origin.

    The origin date of which, incidentally, predates the one for the act this “expert” is engaging in by around 400 years.

    I’m just saying that I disagree that, given any two words with the same denotative meaning where one is considered vulgar, the option not considered vulgar is automatically a euphemism for the other. Just my opinion, but I happen to be right. 😉

    I read about this case a while ago, and I was also struck by the ridiculous circumlocutions that the justices put themselves to just to avoid saying the words that are at issue. Just be adults, people. Sheesh.

    Finally, I’d like to recommend the book “On Bullshit” by Harry Frankfurt, which is probably the most entertaining book you’re going to find in the philosophy section of your favorite bookstore.

  2. Ah but if we were truly adults, then the magic of “f*ck” and “sh*t” wouldn’t exist, and the charges would never have been filed. We can’t ask a rational system of law to uphold irrational beliefs. Or rather, we can, but it will be very messy.

    I think Pinker’s BS mistake at the end was using “euphamism” when he meant “synonym.” The statement was sent via email to Wexler, so I suspect it’s just a typing error. And given that only one of the BS synonyms begins with B, where all the other euphamisms had the leading consonant going for them, I think that supports my theory. There’s an more evident lack of structural heft to the BS examples.

  3. In regard to Colter’s comment: “I wonder if any of the outmoded examples were as weighty in their heyday. People forget that a lot of swear words from a hundred years ago are teethless and innocuous today.”

    I remember when “gay” meant “happy,” and we used that word all the time without any further thought! A lot of formerly innocuous words have shifted meanings, also.

    Someday, you too will be old as the hills, and full of teethless, outmoded, 1980’s-era Arkansas slang expressions that no one remembers or cares about.
    Something to look forward to….

    Love always,

    Your Mom’s sister–

Comments are closed.