By Patrick Appel
Jay Wexler was amused by FCC v. Fox Television Stations, Inc, a Supreme Court case about profanity:
The oral argument in the case had many funny moments. By far the best one was when, in the midst of a back-and-forth with Carter Phillips regarding how the words "fuck" and "shit" may or may not get their special force from being connected to sexual and excretory activity, Justice Scalia said, and I kid you not, "Don't use golly waddles instead of the F word."
Having never heard "golly waddles" before Wexler asked language expert Steven Pinker about it. Pinker's reply:
I am pretty sure that Scalia made up 'golly waddles' on the spot. He needed a hypothetical term that was not "fuck," 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), shit (shame, sheesh, shivers, shoot, shucks, squat, sugar), and fuck (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 bullshit, like applesauce, balderdash, blatherskite, claptrap, codswallop, flapdoodle, hogwash, horsefeathers, humbug, moonshine, poppycock, tommyrot.
Pinker wrote a superb dispatch about the case a few months ago.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.