The origin and linguistics of "shitgibbon"
February 12, 2017 10:31 AM   Subscribe

Ben Zimmer's The Rise of the Shitgibbon, and a followup piece discussing that linguists care about shitgibbons too, by Taylor Jones.
posted by bile and syntax (51 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
I would say it as a dactyl rather than an antibacchius.
posted by MtDewd at 10:44 AM on February 12, 2017 [4 favorites]

From the second link:

That said, in principle, monosyllable expletive + trochee seems to give really good results ... it's not completely unlimited. Some words fit but don't make much sense as an insult: cock bookshelf, fart saucepan (which I quite like, actually), dick pension, belch welder. Others sound like the kind of thing a child would say: fart person! poop human! turd foreman!

In this new America, in which the currency of the realm has become bullshit, and many officials make their living by deploying it and the people who are eager to be deceived by it, "turd foreman," is, I aver, an insult whose time has come.
posted by Countess Elena at 10:45 AM on February 12, 2017 [46 favorites]

One of the more interesting moments from a week I spent in Paris last summer was when I was trying to translate "shitgibbon" into French during a conversation.

I'd told my companion about that Scottish tweet and he read it a couple times, and then I saw him pull up Google in his phone and start using Google translate on it and I had to say ", I don't think they'd have it." Then there followed a weird sort of combination of David Sedaris and Eddie Izzard moment as I tried to define it in my limited French: "You know 'merdre', and that is 'shit,' and 'gibbon' is a small kind of monkey, it has the very long arms, and...."

He got it. But I think we both unconsciously decided that trying to translate "Cheeto-fingered" would be somewhat futile.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:48 AM on February 12, 2017 [7 favorites]

It can also work with two-syllable constructions, i.e., "cuntstack".
posted by acb at 11:12 AM on February 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

It's neither the emphasis nor the vowels. The most important requirement is that the construction contain a series of (usually five) widely varied consonant sounds in quick succession.

Additionally, nonsensical randomness is crucial. Shitgibbon almost doesn't work, being nearly a literal description of the subject.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:34 AM on February 12, 2017 [5 favorites]

I maintain that cock-welder is a perfectly useful insult, provided the recipient is not a artist who works with metal to make rooster statues.

Also eponisterical. I actually checked to see how long this account had been active, half sure it was created to post this.
posted by Hactar at 11:35 AM on February 12, 2017 [5 favorites]

This is superb.
posted by mushhushshu at 11:39 AM on February 12, 2017

I have a soft spot for "munching wanktoaster", which I got from China Mieville's "Kraken".
posted by madmethods at 11:42 AM on February 12, 2017 [9 favorites]

Belch Welder should be a TMBG cover band.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 11:59 AM on February 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

No mention of the shitgibbon's closest primate relative, the poontangutan?
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 12:06 PM on February 12, 2017 [18 favorites]

My personal favourite of this sort of expletive (?) is "cockwomble".
posted by Fuchsoid at 12:14 PM on February 12, 2017 [5 favorites]

Fresh curses offer pause in a sea of turmoil for a grim if brief smile. One can scamper across a sea of stale curses, though, and never get your feet wet.

Please, also consider: (fucktrumpet, dickbiscuit, twatwaffle, turdweasel, not to mention shit whistle) until they become familiar, then let's move on. I'm sure this ground can be revisted often.

The meter is running.

Cheetos forever.
posted by mule98J at 12:32 PM on February 12, 2017 [6 favorites]

I was pleased to work this additional criterion out before I read it in the article (from the Language Jones article):

For a while, I've been discussing vowels in insults with fellow linguist Lauren Spradlin. …… Spradlin has brought my attention to the importance of repeating vowels increasing the viability of a new insult of this form: crap rabbit, jizz biscuit, shit piston, spunk puffin, cock waffle, etc.
posted by ambrosen at 12:34 PM on February 12, 2017 [5 favorites]

I find "shitgibbon" and its analogues too cutesy to sting properly, but anything is better than "asshat," whose period of ascendancy in the early aughts caused me great dismay
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:06 PM on February 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

For some reason, this makes me want to make an automated Twitter bot that responds to every Trump tweet with a combination of these phrases and a Captain Haddock curses.

Subtropical sea louse! Nitwitted ninepin! Fancy-dress fuckweasel!
posted by delfin at 1:36 PM on February 12, 2017 [5 favorites]

Remember, insulting Donald Trump is just a waystation on the road to true action against him. Don't let the echoing shitgibbons at the oasis there keep you from the long road ahead.
posted by Catblack at 1:50 PM on February 12, 2017 [4 favorites]

Lately I find "trashmonster" rising to my lips, especially when I'm about to say something regrettable about my fellow Americans. It speaks very poorly of me, especially when you reflect on the implications of treating political enemies as human garbage, but there we are.

I wrote briefly for a recent class about how, now that cinders and ashes are not part of everyday urban experience, children can't really hear the insult in the name "Cinderella," and that the tale would be well updated by calling the girl "Trashmonster" instead.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:01 PM on February 12, 2017 [11 favorites]

My personal favorite, has been the Italian translation of a Philadelphia style insult: Dick Nose or in the Italian: Naso di Cazzo! Always fun to say, and I was told by my ex wife (who translated for me) not actually used in Italy. Perhaps they just don't know what they're missing.
posted by evilDoug at 2:12 PM on February 12, 2017

Though really, fascist, loofa-faced, shit-gibbon, just rolls off the tongue in a quite delightful manner.
posted by evilDoug at 2:13 PM on February 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

also it just occurred to me that although "fart saucepan" is not quite right for a person, it is the perfect insult for a place. Try it out in your next Yelp review ("Don't eat here, this is a complete fart saucepan")
posted by Countess Elena at 2:47 PM on February 12, 2017 [6 favorites]

I can't remember where I saw it, but similar profanity has been spinning in this orbit for a while.
E.g. Shapeshifting Horsefucker, Dickthistle.
Two stressed, one unstressed, at least somewhat assonant. Sound best delivered by a Scotsperson.
posted by Richard Daly at 3:09 PM on February 12, 2017

“Cattlefucker” (a closed compound; pl., “cattlefuckers”) has a pleasing rhythm. It was the word i’d whisper to myself when encountering errors made by others and left for me to catch while editing a particularly difficult book with a tight deadline seventeen years ago. After weeks of 12+ hour days cleaning up other people’s shit you get a bit surly.
posted by D.C. at 3:15 PM on February 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

It works for humor, too. See: Squat Cobbler [NSFW]
posted by Room 641-A at 3:58 PM on February 12, 2017

Obligatory Language Log: The scansion of disapprobation expressions
posted by lagomorph at 4:04 PM on February 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

My favourite usage of this: The History of the Decline and Fall of the American Empire by Edward Shitgibbon.
posted by L.P. Hatecraft at 4:09 PM on February 12, 2017 [6 favorites]

I find I'm getting a lot of mileage out of "fuckchuckle"
posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:29 PM on February 12, 2017

Oh the perils of owning my own vinyl cutter...i just couldn't resist, now I am going to have to stick these things all over.
posted by stilgar at 4:31 PM on February 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

I don't think it's going to get better than "Super Callous Fragile Racist Sexist Nazi POTUS"
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 4:48 PM on February 12, 2017 [32 favorites]

In retrospect, it may explain why I've always found Cockfosters so eminent a swear.
posted by mushhushshu at 4:57 PM on February 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

I couldn't find a generator for these, so I wrote one. Suggestions welcome--I don't have much experience with this sort of thing. Some that I like so far: cockschooner, cuntbellows, twatchieftain, fuckrooster, wanknova.
posted by fermion at 5:07 PM on February 12, 2017 [4 favorites]

That is great work, fermion, I just got this "Fuck you, jizzfeathering". I'm not sure about calling someone jizzfeathering, but it could definitely refer to a certain someone's hairstyling technique.

As a barely related aside, I have decided to try and stop swearing so much in front of my kids (they have begun to drop eff bombs, whoops). I have been using a variety of standard minced oaths that I find funny, like "Great Scott, that is a huge mess you've made", but I also started using "Hillary's emails!" For example "Hillary's emails, that is the most disgusting thing I have ever seen!" It works well for me because it also makes me realize that what I consider a huge problem (like a mountain of toys in the living room) really isn't anything important and I can just clean it up and get along with my life rather than descending into a pit of rage.
posted by Literaryhero at 5:46 PM on February 12, 2017 [7 favorites]

The FPP article has been reposted at Slate, with a new round of comments (422 and counting).
posted by msalt at 6:04 PM on February 12, 2017

so-called ruler of the United States: SCROTUS
posted by Orange Dinosaur Slide at 6:07 PM on February 12, 2017 [17 favorites]

One twist worth noting: because of their relative metrical features, you can reverse the word-pair order of this species of insult to create new offbrand nicknames for Benedict Cumberbatch.

Shitgibbon twatwaffle?

Gibbonshit Waffletwat.
posted by cortex at 6:27 PM on February 12, 2017 [15 favorites]

Oh man. Linguistics always sounds interesting until I actually try to read linguistics talk, and then I start keeling over.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:00 PM on February 12, 2017

I find myself filling the "shitgibbon" mold with nonsense syllables and getting still wonderfully insulting-sounding words like "spelkwhebner" and "snutmugget".
posted by Mister Moofoo at 12:59 AM on February 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

ately I find "trashmonster" rising to my lips

That sounds altogether too affectionate, at least to anyone who grew up watching Sesame Street.

Calling some despicable scumbag a trashmonster would give one the opposite of satisfaction, much like ringing the too melodious-sounding bell on one's bicycle at some jerk who cut in in front of you feels less like censuring them and more like giving them a Mario Bros.-style +1 points for having bested you.
posted by acb at 2:06 AM on February 13, 2017 [4 favorites]

Another theoretical point that went unmentioned: there should be no semantic linkage between the offensive and inoffensive parts of the expletive; “cockwomble” and “douchenugget” work because the surreality of the juxtaposition maximises their impact, like air in a fuel-air explosive.

(Tangentally: I once heard that one of the most offensive swearwords in Dutch translates literally as “cancer-whore”, another semantically random juxtaposition.)
posted by acb at 2:09 AM on February 13, 2017 [3 favorites]

Trashmonster just makes me think of trash panda, and those are too cute.

A former roommate used to occasionally use "goat roper" as an insult, which almost fits the pattern. I might suggest switching to "goatboner" though.
posted by Foosnark at 5:44 AM on February 13, 2017

Trashmonster makes me think of the Cookie Monster, who I really like.

A friend of mine used to call grotty pubs pissbins, and I've always enjoyed that one
posted by Myeral at 8:13 AM on February 13, 2017

"Shitgibbon" has the advantage of seeming to have a cogent and appropriate meaning, ie a creature that brachiates through the forest while scattering its excreta on all.

However, I find it difficult to relinquish the more surreal image of a man who in fact, shits gibbons.
posted by Segundus at 8:19 AM on February 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

No idea if it feels different in the US, but these twee compound swears - of which "cockwomble" seems to be the ur-curse - just feel nauseatingly cutesy to me, and always seem to be delivered with a smug confidence that they're far more clever than they really are; the Stephen Fry of cussing. I don't know.
posted by ominous_paws at 8:27 AM on February 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

I know it's incredibly obvious, but I still find it odd that it hasn't been explicitly spelled out, especially if we're going to get into origins and linguistics: Shitgibbon is clearly tied to the concept of monkeys flinging poo, which has long been a metaphor for unproductive debate.
posted by gripdamage at 8:33 AM on February 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm surprised no one has brought up "Clownstick von Fuckface" yet
posted by surazal at 9:09 AM on February 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

"Twatbadger" is an insult of choice among some of my friends...
posted by emilyw at 11:18 AM on February 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

My go-tos are fuckbucket and cocksmelter. The latter profession may also be inserted into a DnD campaign as a cocksmith, or cocksmythe for the legendarily lyrical.
posted by FatherDagon at 11:41 AM on February 13, 2017

Also eponisterical. I actually checked to see how long this account had been active, half sure it was created to post this.

Uh.... thanks, I guess?
posted by bile and syntax at 1:18 PM on February 13, 2017

Turdwaffle and shitweasel tend to be my go-to's but that might be a Sydney traffic sort of thing.
posted by ninazer0 at 4:55 PM on February 13, 2017

Cussing innovations are tricky. I remember way back when the movie Blue Velvet came out. It seemed like every cuss and insult had been done, until Dennis Hopper yelled "You stupid FUCK."

I had never heard of it as a noun (other than the act) and it was amazingly powerful. Now of course it's a commonplace, usually preceded by "stupid."
posted by msalt at 7:51 PM on February 13, 2017

Arsebadger. Spunktrumpet. Works best with medium-grade swears, I think. I wonder if it's related to the kind of formulation that's present but not sweary in "Blackadder".
posted by holgate at 8:43 PM on February 13, 2017

Fuckknuckle has long been popular in these parts, as has arsemarmot, not to mention knobgobbler, snotswallower and sicknippled crotchbotherer.

Ok I may have made those last two up.
posted by ephemerae at 7:50 PM on February 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

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