2017 UK-to-US Word of the Year: shitgibbon

This is the second of my 2017 Word of the Year posts. For the US>UK winner, see yesterday's post.

A Pinterest page credits this
photo to Josef Gelernter



As I said then, there's always a choice--do I go for the (BrE) slow burner that's been wheedling its way into the other country, or do I go for something that was splashy in the news? I went for the slow burner for US-to-UK because it really did seem to resonate in 2017. But I couldn't find as good a reason to promote any of the UK-to-US slowburners (and there are a lot of them--as Ben Yagoda's been tracking) to special status for 2017. So I'm going way back to February when I tweeted this:
Yes, for its (ok, flash-in-the-pan) newsworthiness, I'm declaring the 2017 UK-to-US Word of the Year to be:

shitgibbon

 It made the news because a Pennsylvania senator tweeted:

Leach was apparently inspired to use this term because it had previously been applied to Trump by protesters in Scotland when he visited there in 2016. For example:



Now,  there is some similarity between this winner and yesterday's US>UK runner-up mugwump, in that they are both funny-sounding insults hurled by one politician at another. But mugwump wasn't a winner because people in the UK aren't going (BrE) about/(AmE) around using the word mugwump just because one politician did. Shitgibbon, on the other hand, has stuck. Searching it just now on Twitter, I get it in about a half-dozen American tweets per hour. ([AmE] Your mileage may vary, especially depending on the hour and your timezone.) Mostly, the tweets have noun phrases like orange shitgibbon and refer to the very same person as in Leach's tweet. But the usage does seem to drift a bit, with, for instance, reference to "shitgibbon trolls"—which may be a way of calling the trolls 'Trumpist', or it may just be used generally to insult them.
 
This post is very indebted to Ben Zimmer's Strong Language/Slate post linked-to in the first tweet above. But do have a look at it for more on the linguistics of the word. At that point Ben had traced the epithet to UK users on music bootlegging sites in 2000. With a little more digging and a little help from UK journalist David Quantick, Ben was able to confirm the word's existence in 1990, when it was used in the pages of the British music magazine NME. His follow-up article is here.

Shitgibbon joins wanker and bollocks in the ranks of UK>US WotYs that help keep this blog banned in schools. Americans do seem particularly attracted to British "bad" words.

25 comments

  1. For more on the origins of the shitgibbon insult, see my Slate followup here.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Ben, for all your work on this word! I've updated the end of the post to incorporate the later work.

      Delete
  2. Speaking as a Brit, I don't think I've ever heard this term.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Speaking as a Brit, I remember reading it on British web forums about 20 years ago. David Quantick claims to have first written it in NME in the 80's, too.

      Delete
    2. Well, I don't think I've ever heard it on Radio 3.

      Delete
  3. LOL! I love your commentary!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Bahahahahaha! "Shitgibbon joins wanker and bollocks in the ranks of UK>US WotYs that help keep this blog banned in schools." Too funny. Loved the lesson on season vs. series as well, wasn't aware the BrE difference! Cheers from Copenhagen.

    ReplyDelete
  5. But mugwump wasn't a winner because people in the UK aren't going (BrE) about/(AmE) around using the word mugwump just because one politician did.

    I think the reason is different. No matter how many or how few politicians used the word it was the wrong sort of target. That word none of us has heard of did survive because it stuck to Trump. Nothing sticks to Jeremy Corbyn. well, not this sort of invective or implied invective.

    Most of us quit like Jeremy, and not a few admire him. Many oppose his political views, but only those of a strong right-wing bent will make a serious personal attack. Yes, there's a lot of ridicule, but it's generally head-shakingly affectionate.

    If you want to attack Jeremy Corbyn's politics, you're best advised to attack those close to him (principally Dianne Abbott or John McConnell), the organisation that supports him (Momentum) or the allegedly naive and mindless crows of young people who cheer him even at a major pop festival.

    Before Boris's mugwump attempt, the usual word was dynosaur. that didn't work either.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. CORRECTION

      Most of us quite like Jeremy...

      Delete
    2. FURTHER CORRECTION


      John McDonnell

      Delete
    3. Crowds, I suppose; or is crows again a word of political abuse in Britain, as it was in Kingsley's day?

      Delete
  6. The thing about shitgibbon that I really appreciate, aside from just how funny it sounds, is that it is an insult that attacks neither the target's gender, sexuality, background or religion. Anyone can be a shitgibbon!

    ReplyDelete
  7. New to me, but then, I am not up in current slang.

    ReplyDelete
  8. And gibbon is one of those words that many in the UK find inherently funny.
    I remember, many decades ago from some wireless program that I now forget, a song about stuffing a gibbon:
    "...Give that gibbon what he's hollering for O, O, O, O..." or something along those lines.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That would be I'm Sorry I'll Read that Again, which often mentioned gibbons. They also mentioned Edward Empire, who wrote The Decline and Fall of the Roman Gibbon, and Stanley Stamp, author of the The Stanley Stamp Gibbon Catalogue.

      A fun show, performed by John Cleese, Bill Oddie, Graeme Garden, Jo Kendall, and David Hatch. Sir David Hatch went on to be head of BBC Light Entertainment.

      Delete
    2. Or the song ‘Funky Gibbon’ which was sung by Tim Brooke-Taylor and Bill Oddie in the TV show The Goodies ......

      Delete
    3. Although I recall that Stuff that Gibbon was a different song that was sung first on ISIRTA.

      Delete
  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I've also missed this expression hitherto, but it's a lot going for it. It has a ring about it. It's self-evidently derogatory. It's obviously not something anybody wants to be. You don't have to stop and speculate whether it's a compliment or an insult. It references an animal which is inherently funny. And once coupled with the adjective 'orange', it appositely fits the person being insulted, without one having to stop and speculate whom it is referencing.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Just a test to see if Google recognises me.

    ReplyDelete
  12. also testing cos nothing I post seems to get through :-(

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. After 2 weeks, new comments don't appear immediately, as they have to be approved by me. That said, I've received nothing else to approve from you!

      Delete
    2. That's not the problem in my case, Lynne. Inexplicably, I have to pretend to edit my profile every time I switch on my computer.

      Nick, I suggest you try the same thing, Click to Edit then, without making any changes, click to Save.

      Delete
    3. Nick, I missed out a step.

      First click on your your name. Then click to edit your profile.

      Delete
    4. Ah, right, thanks David. I'll try that next time a post fails to materialise (watching this thread like a hawk now!)

      Delete

Follow by email

View by topic

Twitter

Abbr.

AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)