Verbing awry

(Warning: sexually explicit language. Not for kids or the modest.)

Passed on by Robert Coren, this message from the South Dakota Office of Highway Safety:

Looks like they were aiming for the verbing jerk ‘be a jerk, be an obnoxious person’, but missed the potential ambiguity with the jerk of the sexual idiom jerk off ‘jack off, masturbate’.

[Correction: it seems I was wrong about the SDOHS’s intentions, though the ambiguity problem remains. Reader isotopeblue writes:

Actually, if you go to, it appears they’re concerned with jerking the wheel, not verbing the noun “jerk” for an aggressive driver.]

[Further developments: Chris Ambidge on Facebook reports that they’ve pulled the ad.”Officials have admitted that the double entendre was intentional”, with this news report:

public safety campaign in South Dakota backfired when officials heard its “Don’t Jerk and Drive” push and forced them to pull the ad.
Officials admitted the double entendre was intentional, the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader reported in its story.
The campaign was based on raising awareness of jerking the steering wheel on icy roads. But, “jerk” also has other sexual meanings.
Department of Public Safety Secretary Trevor Jones said in a statement that he pulled the ad. “This is an important safety message, and I don’t want this innuendo to distract from our goal to save lives on the road.”

Several readers have noted that the story is a lot less fun if the double entendre was intentional.]

As for masturbating while driving, here’s a poem from 1991:

An ordinary man in an ordinary car

I am writing this down in a restaurant in Barstow, California,
Having a Sunday chili omelette by myself,
Watching, watching,
Amazed that other travelers are not shocked to see
These words in the air above me.

I jacked off
While driving my dependable Toyota Camry
One-handed, at a cruise-controlled 67 miles per hour,
Over lonely desert roads this morning,
Composing these words in my head,
Listening to Frankie Goes to Hollywood
Tell me, relax, relax.

One Response to “Verbing awry”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    Well, I guess it’s partly my fault for making the same assumption — I should have clicked through to see what the message was. Still, probably not a good choice.

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