Language Log has been on a tear for some time now about the increasingly ridiculous insistence on the part of the NY Times on a figleaf of dashes to avoid the horrid appearance of words which it is virtually inconceivable any of their readers have not encountered; here is the most recent extended discussion, and here for your convenience is a full listing of all “Language Log postings on taboo vocabulary.” It has rarely seemed so ridiculous as in Deborah Solomon’s interview with Harry G. Frankfurt, author of a bestselling book whose title the Times gives as “On Bull—.” Needless to say, the actual title is On Bullshit; you can read a description (and the first chapter) at the publisher’s site, which also has a link to images of the covers of a number of translations (oddly, it’s simply Bullshit in German; I’d be interested in the verdict of people who know Hebrew and Japanese on the titles used for those languages). The entire interview focuses on the book, the word, and the concept, and by my count the fig-hidden term “bull—” appears eight times in a very short talk. It’s almost as if Ms. Solomon was deliberately highlighting the absurdity of the policy; if so, good for her. The Times routinely commits worse sins against language, but you’d think they’d want to avoid looking not only dumb but laughably out of it.


  1. The Hebrew is the transliteration “Bullshit!” My dictionary gives a couple translations, and something this century I’ll figure out how to cut-n-paste other alphabets into blog comments.

  2. The Japanese title, 『ウンコな議論』unko na giron, isn’t an expression I’m familiar with, but it translates approximately as ‘a crappy argument’.

  3. I should probably add to my previous comment that unko refers unambiguously to faeces. I’d personally equate it with something like poo in (British) English.
    Incidentally, Koujien gives the source of unko as the un sound of someone straining (with ko as a nominalising suffix), which I rather like.

  4. The title in Italian seems to be “Stronzate”. Umberto Eco had a few words to say about the book and bullshit in general in one of his columns.
    Incidentally, Steve, I have some problems viewing the comments to your posts in Firefox. They appear in a pop-up window which cannot be resized and has no scrollbars. Moreover, its dimensions are 1cm x 15 cm at the moment.

  5. bulbul, I use Firefox as well, and I’ve never had that problem. Seems to be an issue with your local configuration.

  6. fev — the Hebrew title does include a translation of “on,” just in much smaller print. (It’s the preposition “al,” which is appropriate for this use.) And the transliteration of “bullshit” is in quotation marks, which seems reasonable. Seeing as much of the book is a putative attempt at defining “bullshit,” I think it’s reasonable to transliterate the English word rather than to look for a suitable Hebrew one.
    bulbul — I recommend ignoring the “comments” link, and just clicking the timestamp.

  7. Christopher,
    I suspect it’s a version-related issue ( I can’t recall any similar problems with previous versions.
    it works. Thank you very much :o)
    Silly silly bul^2…

  8. Fev,
    if everything else fails, try this.

  9. Siganus Sutor says

    The French translation has been entitled De l’art de dire des conneries.
    Connerie is what comes from a “con”, i.e. a fool in slang. Con
    itself is the word that means ‘cunt’*.
    I don’t know if English speakers visualise some sort of cow dung when they hear ‘bullshit’ but no French speaker would normally imagine any pussy in a ‘connerie’. Though slang — sometimes just mildly —, it has mostly lost its link to the original meaning.
    * The etymologies proposed for the English word seem more or less similar to the French ones — and as obscure…

  10. I don’t know if English speakers visualise some sort of cow dung when they hear ‘bullshit’
    No, that’s the interesting thing about these extended uses — they quickly lose any real connection with the original sense.

  11. Siganus Sutor says

    So why the fuss then if, all things forgotten, it has even lost its taste of little madeleine?

  12. michael farris says

    “I don’t know if English speakers visualise some sort of cow dung when they hear ‘bullshit’”
    I actually do, but I assume that that’s because I spent a big chunk of my childhood on my cousins’ cattle ranch.
    But I assume the large majority of people who haven’t been around the real thing much wouldn’t make the association.

  13. I wonder why they went with ウンコな議論 rather than, say, ウンコにおける or something.
    Firefox people having a difficult time with the comments box–instead of the “comments” link, try clicking the permalink (the one with the time of the post). That way, you get the whole post and all comments on one page.

  14. ウンコにおける would be something like “at shit,” as おける is basically a fancy way of writing で (it’s used a lot in announcements and such to indicate where some event is taking place). The alternative would be xについて ‘about x’. But this is probably one of those cases where you need to be a bit more explicit in Japanese than in other languages: just ウンコ by itself wouldn’t evoke the right ideas.
    And darnit, I just saw an abstract of a talk about the meaning differences between Nな and Nの, but for the life of me I can’t remember the generalizations. It’s something more like “a shit-ish argument” rather than just “an argument which is/constitutes/is-of shit.”

  15. I understood ウンコな議論 as “shitty argument(s)”, but Russell’s explanation seems convincing (my Japanese is very limited). Isn’t the ‘un’ in ‘unko’ usually rendered with 糞 (Chinese ‘fen’, “feces, excrements”)?
    I was worried that the “bullshit” would become a “dogfart” (goupi 狗屁) in the Chinese translation, but apparently they rendered it as Fangpi 放屁!, hence choosing to take “bullshit!” the exclamation (you’d say ‘fangpi!’ or ‘ni fangpi!’, i.e. “fart/you’re farting!” to someone stating some nonsense).

  16. クソについて?

  17. Great, now it’s Unko vs. Kuso all over again.

  18. Two excrements enter, one excrement leaves!

  19. Careful, LH, somebody might take that as a tagline for their next video game or “animé”.
    I’d like to confirm my quick googling for the Chinese title, at least in Taiwan. Here is an online bookstore page with all the information, including a PowerPoint presentation and endorsements by local academics.
    If that page is correct, the translation is quite recent (last month).

  20. Two excrements enter, one excrement leaves!
    Is it just me or does it sound like an ad for a restaurant in Engrish?

  21. I don’t really see the point of translating the book anyway, ’cause the content is as much lexicologocal as it is philosophical. I bought the original English version in Paris without difficulty, and I’d recommend it to all fellow languagehatters.

  22. Hahaha! the wonders of context advertising! Mr. Frankfurt quotes a colleague: “Yale is the world capital of bullshit”. And behold! – just next to it is an ad for the infamous story of Alexey Vayner, which is the best example of that.

  23. Siganus Sutor, do you know Aragon’s erotic novel titled Le con d’Irène? In the Seventies, Etiemble was already confident that most young people were not able to figure out the ambivalence.
    I only hope the Greek edition stays away from any onanistic reference.

  24. (I think Aragon destroyed all the copies after he started living with Elsa Triolet, but I’d have to check it out.)

  25. do you know Aragon’s erotic novel titled Le con d’Irène?
    Jimmy, moving from le con d’Irène to les yeux d’Elsa was quite an ascension. (Courbet might have disagreed though.)
    To answer your question: no, I’ve never “known” neither Irène nor her foolish companion. I’m familiar with Brassens only who, from his balcony, loved to voir passer les cons.
    I only hope the Greek edition stays away from any onanistic reference.
    Why? Is there a link between bull— and autoeroticism in this case? In Spain (or in Crete) I would have understood why, maybe, to a certain extent, but in Greece…

  26. Let’s put it that way: the Greek equivalent for “connerie”, the “μ-word” (“malakía”), could be translated as “branlerie”. No relation to bulls or athletic interactions with them, but we still “en dessous de la ceinture”.
    “From knowledge to knowledge”, Crete is of course in Greece (I know that you know, but I still hear people confusing it with Cyprus).

  27. I just realised that noöne mentioned Le canard enchaîné‘s “Mur du çon” and “çonneries”. Voilà qui est fait.

  28. I give up: what is the ambivalence?

  29. “Le con d’Irène” can be either “Irène’s cunt” (that’s how Aragon meant it) or “Irène’s fool”, the one who is crazy about Irène. The latter interpretation would be the most popular nowadays, since Aragon also wrote Le fou d’Elsa.

  30. I talked about “ambivalence” because, while it is clear that Aragon meant “cunt” (like most surrealists, he read a lot of Sade, who always uses “con” in its first meaning), Etiemble thought that the other possibility (really an equivalent of μαλάκας, excuse my Greek) gave the title some more poetic depth.

  31. Did I say “depth”? I am losing my English; I meant something like the richness created by the play between the two meanings. Sorry for not being able to express it more properly.

  32. Ah, and here I was thinking it was referencing some now-obscure person or work called Condirène! AKA La Condirena, a comrade-in-arms of La Pasionaria, luring young, impressionable youth to their deaths across the Pyrenées…

  33. Jimmy, are you sure Crete is in Greece? Gosh, I always thought it was in the Indian Ocean! A Greek colony far far away from Athens…
    Anyway, I’ve heard some people say that at some point in time Cretans had some special relations with bulls, to the point that one day a human baby was born with a bull’s head (and a bull’s eye too, probably). However, I wonder how it was for mainland Greece. I’ve never heard of a cult involving bulls there, be it related to Mithraism or whatever.
    Thanks for “malakía”, a word which may be useful to know. Could “branler le con” be translated in Greek without problem?
    I just realised that noöne mentioned Le canard enchaîné’s “Mur du çon” and “çonneries”.
    If we start playing with this word, we might get carried away very far…

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