How can I put this?

A cartoon by William Haefeli that was rejected by the New Yorker:

(This is reproduced from Matthew Diffee’s The Rejection Collection: Cartoons You Never Saw, and Never Will See, in The New Yorker (2006).)

Courting the gay vote is a euphemism for engaging in, or soliciting, gay sex (of some kind, not specified, though receptive fellatio — sucking cock — is the most likely act). It falls into a pattern of ostentatiously playful euphemisms of the form Ving the N, especially for reference to male masturbation (my favorite is firing the Surgeon General); there’s a huge list of euphemisms for masturbation, many of them of this form, here; some discussion of display through concealment in these euphemisms here; and a note on the extension to the meta-euphemism verbing the noun here.

But it’s not just masturbation. In 2009 we got hiking the Appalachian trail for reference to adultery, thanks to Mark Sanford; see Ben Zimmer’s “Birth of a euphemism” posting here, with a link to Mark Peters’s more detailed posting.

Haefeli’s cartoon was done before the Appalachian trail was hiked, but it did come (perhaps presciently) during an eruption of “family values” anti-gay public figures involved in gay sex scandals. In chronological order, with brief Wikipedia accounts:

(1) Mark Foley: The Mark Foley scandal, which broke in late September 2006, centers on soliciting e-mails and sexually suggestive instant messages sent by Mark Foley, a Republican Congressman from Florida, to teenaged boys who had formerly served as congressional pages. (link)

(2) Ted Haggard: Ted Arthur Haggard … is an American evangelical pastor. Known as Pastor Ted to the congregation he served, he was the founder and former pastor of the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado; a founder of the Association of Life-Giving Churches; and was leader of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) from 2003 until November 2006.

In November 2006, escort and masseur Mike Jones alleged that Haggard had paid him to engage in sex with him for three years and had also purchased and used crystal methamphetamine. (link)

(3) Larry Craig: The Larry Craig scandal was an incident that began on June 11, 2007, with the arrest of Larry Craig — who at the time was a Senator from Idaho — for lewd conduct in a men’s restroom at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. (link)

(4) Bob Allen: Bob Allen … is a former American politician who was a Republican member of the Florida House of Representatives from 2000 until 2007, representing Florida’s 32nd district…

He made headlines in 2007 after being arrested for offering $20 for the opportunity to perform fellatio on an undercover male police officer in the restroom of a public park and was released on bail. (link)

There’s more, but it certainly was a banner time for hypocrisy. Haefeli’s cartoon was done before the Craig and Allen scandals, but he might have been influenced by the Foley or Haggard affairs.

As far as I can tell, courting the gay vote hasn’t caught on as a euphemism for gay sex, or for soliciting gay sex, but it has some potential.


6 Responses to “How can I put this?”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    Robert Lane Greene on Google+:

    I read it differently – just that “courting the gay vote” – the literal act of making public policy suggestions that would make gays more likely to vote for you – is still considered scandalous by some people. But clicking through and reading that it was published in the Foley-Haggard-Craig (and Sanford) heyday makes your reading make as much sense. I’d never heard “courting the gay vote” used as a solicitation for sex.

    My response: You’d like to interpret the comment literally. But then Haefeli would have written “He claims he has you on video courting the gay vote”. Instead, he signals his non-literal intentions through “how can I put this?” and the quotation marks around “courting the gay vote”. [This is independent of the political events going on at the time.]

    The literal interpretation would have been much less interesting, and much less funny — though it probably would still have gotten axed by the New Yorker for being party-political.

    And I wasn’t claiming that Haefeli was quoting — I said I didn’t see that courting the gay vote had gotten any traction yet — only that he was using a template Ving the N.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Lane Greene replies:

      Arnold, I thought of it as the aide being (faux-)delicate because the subject is so taboo to so many. As to the faux part, the “how can I put this” when followed by something literal and plain is funny in its own way. I might say to a friend “That shirt is…how can I put this… ugly.”

      I’m sure your interpretation was the right one though. (I re-enter my plea of ignorance of the awesome euphemism “courting the gay vote.”)

      I think we can credit Haefeli with inventing the euphemism. Court is especially nice in this context.

  2. Arne Adolfsen Says:

    I want to gay marry William Haefeli.

  3. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Jeremy Kahn on Google+:

    Never a better time to remind your readers of (currently at 61 days!).

  4. arnold zwicky Says:

    More from Lane Greene, a report:

    (Michael Berry, Houston right-wing radio host videotaped at a drag show at a gay club and fleeing the scene of an accident, Feb 15.)

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