Every December, Lynne Murphy, who runs the blog Separated By A Common Language, chooses two Words of the Year: an American word that has gained popularity in the United Kingdom (US>UK) and one that has gone the other way (UK>US). Recent winners in the latter category (obviously more interesting for NOOBS purposes) are gutted, backbencher, gap year, dodgy, and bum.
Yesterday, Lynne announced “shitgibbon” as her 2017 UK>US word, and I’m chagrined to say I have not yet covered it. It first got notice in the U.S. as one of a flurry of insults hurled at Donald Trump in 2016, the only one of which I wrote about was “wazzock.”
One of the prominent insults was this tweet, posted after Trump (falsely) claimed that Scotland had voted in favor of Brexit.
Among the prominent Americans to pick it up, Lynne notes, was a Pennsylvania Democratic state legislator from my home region, the suburbs of Philadelphia.
Leach seems to have come up with “loofa-faced” on his own. Coincidentally, he is currently in a bit of hot water for matters unrelated to his Trump insults.
“Shitgibbon” is an insult of rather recent provenance. Uber language guy Ben Zimmer investigated its history in two articles published in Slate. He reported
My fellow word sleuth Hugo van Kemenade found examples as early as 2000 in Usenet forum posts about bootlegging in the British music scene, where shitgibbon was deployed against ungrateful traders of copied music. More than a decade later, it got a boost from an early episode of HBO’s Veep in 2012, wherein the character Sen. Andrew Doyle calls a rival a “gold-plated fucking shitgibbon.”
And there the hunt might have remained, if not for a comment on my original post on the Strong Language blog. The British writer David Quantick dropped this bomb:
“Hi, I wrote the Veep line. It was originally ‘spunk-faced shitgibbon,’ a phrase I used in a 1988 column in New Musical Express and have put in most of my writing since. PS I’m not Scottish and have nothing to do with bootlegging.
Ben confirmed Quantick’s claim.
8 thoughts on ““Shitgibbon””
My personal British swear-word of the year is Cockwomble.
(The Wombles are fictional pointy-nosed, furry creatures created by author Elisabeth Beresford … they live in burrows, where they aim to help the environment by collecting and recycling rubbish in creative ways).
This is nonsense. I am British, live in London and have never heard anyone use “shitgibbon”. It is certainly not in anything like the same general use as the other UK>US words of the year you quote above.
I read Ben’s post two or three times, thinking he might have got it the wrong way round. Sorry, Ben. Call me wazzock. I thought it must be an American word.
Happy Christmas and New Year!
Without a doubt, Lynne Murphy chose “shitgibbon” as the word of the year because it’s so colorful and befitting the times, not because it’s widely used in either the U.K. or the U.S.
The best thing about “shitgibbon” is that Donald Trump will be, in the most literal sense possible, the dictionary definition of one, insofar as the dictionaries of the future will cite those tweets as important and illustrative examples of usage.
I confess I don’t understand why dodgy and bum are Britishisms. I’ve heard them my whole life in the U.S., and that’s been over five decades so far. Seriously, dodgy? Is it because I was born in Michigan, which is close to and influenced by Canada. I didn’t grow up there, though. I spent time in Texas, Tennessee, California and Minnesota (and other places).