Exclaiming euphemistically

Caught on tv recently, an ad for Oreo Fudge Cremes, viewable here, in which four exclamations (about the marvels of the cookies) go past very fast:

Whoa! … Get out! … Shut the front door! … Franklin Delano!

The last two are euphemized exclamations, neither of them clearly tied to specific taboo exclamations. But that didn’t stop a commenter from being outraged on behalf of the kiddies.

From AnonymousCoward on 4/23/11:

I think this is a terrible commercial when selling items to children. [Yes, I’ve added this to my collection of dangling modifiers.] You are endorsing swearing and encouraging children to swear. Plus, I truly want to see one mother say that [“Shut the front door!”, presumably] infront of her children.

AnonymousCoward takes the position that euphemisms — even euphemisms distant from the taboo expressions they substitute for — count as swearing. Avoid Obscenity Or Anything That Alludes To It.

Note 1: Franklin Delano! bears a family resemblance to W. C. Fields’s favorite euphemistic exclamation Godfrey Daniel! (though Fields’s version sticks pretty close to Goddamn!), and Franklin might be seen as suggesting fuck.

Note 2: Get out!  is a conventionized exclamation conveying, roughly ‘wow!’ Get out of here is a longer variant. In the same family is Shut up! (a favorite exclamation — not always understood by others in the way intended — of Jenna Elfman’s character Dharma on the tv show Dharma and Greg). Also Shut my mouth! (I suppose that Shut the front door! might be seen as belonging to the same family, with front suggesting fuck(ing). But then we’re seeing fuck in any f-word whatsoever.)

I thought the ad writers did a good job of devising exclamations that sound slightly off-color without actually evoking taboo vocabulary. Not that it makes me want to rush out and buy Oreo Fudge Cremes.

8 Responses to “Exclaiming euphemistically”

  1. Ben Zimmer Says:

    I would’ve guessed “shut the front door” was intended to euphemize “shut the fuck up.”

    Put that in your Funk & Wagnalls, as they say.

  2. Justin Says:

    Yeah, ‘Shut the front door’ is a pretty widely used euphemism for ‘Shut the fuck up’.
    In fact there’s a scene in the sitcom Raising Hope where a character exclaims ‘Shut the front door!’ and then has to explain that he does in fact want the front door to be shut.

    Here are other examples from TV(Castle) and Movies(The kids are alright) :

    And finally Kristin Chenoweth on So You Think You Can Dance taking it a little further:

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Well, I was unaware of this. But do people use Shut the fuck up to convey ‘wow; I didn’t know that’? (This is an honest question; I really don’t know the answer.)

      And if they do, would kids be expected to know this? (Ads, like cartoons, often speak in different ways to different audiences.)

      • Carl Polley Says:

        It means something more like “you’re kidding, right?” except STFU is spoken with a falling tone, in contrast to YKR’s rising tone, and thus sounds more sardonic. Well, I guess the f-word adds some sardonicism too. Is that a word?

  3. Ben Zimmer Says:

    Urban Dictionary captures the nuance:

    shut the fuck up: phrase used to express shock or disbelief at something someone has said; similar to “get outta here” or “you’re kidding me”

    “Alex got a job making a hundred thousand dollars a year.”
    “Shut the fuck up! No way!”

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Ok, I stand corrected. Now, whether kids would know this is another thing.

      And there’s still the business of people treating euphemisms as exactly equivalent to the things they substitute for.

  4. Victor Steinbok Says:

    IIRC variations on “Get out!” can be found in Beverly Hills Cop (the first one, not II or III) in the scene at the art gallery (Espresso with a twist). And the longer versions include not just “Get out of here!”, but “Get the fuck out of here!” (all synonymous with “You’ve got to be kidding me!”)

    Seeing “fucking” in “Franklin” is not particularly surprising (Franklin Delano == Fucking Amazing?). But, as the old joke goes, it’s not the euphemisms–it’s the dirty minds of the people who complain. Don’t forget the comment about the NYT editor who “saw penises everywhere”.

  5. This Week’s Language Blog Roundup | Wordnik ~ all the words Says:

    […] Zwicky explores boldly going, discusses a few unsatisfactory portmanteaus, and how even euphemistic exclamations can be offensive to some.  The Virtual Linguist took a look at the British saying, as you do; a […]

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