So, I wrote a book about some bullshit—literally.
Bullshit: A Lexicon — featuring cartoons by New Yorker cartoonist Drew Dernavich — is full of lexical history and silly jokes about common words like bunk, malarkey, and mumbo jumbo, plus rarities like stump water and flubdub. All the terms and idioms mean something in the neighborhood of bullshit, and most of them are pretty funny.
But which is the funniest word for bullshit? At the risk of stretching this column’s premise to its breaking point, I have some thoughts on this important matter.
Bullshit itself is a fairly funny word, but its more notable for usefulness than humor. It would surely be a leading contender for Most Satisfying Word in the Multiverse. Some BS words have a funny sound, especially the reduplicative words like mumbo jumbo, fiddle-faddle, and ackamarackus. I find tommyrot amusing. Futurama coined a bunch of BS-related exclamations that are all pretty funny, like crapspackle, blithery-poop, twaddle-cock, and baldercrap. Truthiness might be the only BS word that’s actually satirical. Stephen Colbert’s contribution to the BS lexicon is one of the great words of my lifetime: a word that’s both a joke and a potent, specific weapon against bullshit.
But for funniest BS word, I have to go with a word from another language category that is near and dear to my lexicon-loving, immature heart: euphemisms. I love euphemisms, partly due to my love of George Carlin (who I will eventually get to in this column, once I overcome my fear of discussing my hero). Carlin was surgical in his smackdown of evasive language, pointing out how a term like post-traumatic stress disaster lacked the effectiveness of shellshock and might even contribute to misunderstanding of the condition. Still, if you read between the lines, Carlin has a barely contained glee for euphemisms too: in a way, he appreciated the creativity behind our reality cloaking piles of poppycock. And I bet he would love the term I think is the Funniest BS Term.
This is basically a euphemism squared. Many folks say “Bull!” when they don’t want to say “Bullshit!” But if even b-u-double-hockey-sticks seems too harsh for your house, there’s gentleman cow, which is far from the only bull-avoiding term out there. A bunch are recorded in the wonderful Dictionary of American Regional English, such as:
- cow beast
- cow brute
- cow critter
- cow topper
- cow’s husband
- end man
- head of the herd
- old man
- stock cow
Those words euphemize actual bulls, not bullshit, sadly. But gentleman cow gets a metaphorical use in the BS lexicon now and then. Brenda Bowers used it alongside George Costanza’s favorite word in a 2009 blog post about Obamacare: “I must call that Gentleman Cow Manure…” Here it is in the most elevated realms, the Internet comment, in a shouty response to a 2007 blog post: “LUCAS MAKES PLANS WITH US AND THEN BREAKS THEM AT THE LAST MINUTE FOR NO DISCERNIBLE REASON. THAT’S GENTLEMAN-COW SHIT, THAT IS.” That example makes the euphemism even more ludicrous by following it up with shit. You might as well say, “I never use the fuckin’ f-word!”
Terms like gentleman cow, gentleman-cow shit, meadow muffins, and cow’s husband are why I love language as much as comedy. There’s just no end to the creativity and variety of words. Like all living things, English is weird, annoying, amusing, unpredictable, bonkers, and kind of a miracle. You couldn’t make up a term like gentleman-cow shit, but somebody did.