Friday, March 12, 2010

They’re Getting Downright PISSy at the Houston Chronicle

We’ve noticed a lot of piss in our daily newspaper lately. Not the literal kind––what self-respecting pooch would even bother to lift a leg over The Good Life?––but the figure-of-speech kind. By that we mean variations on the verb form of “piss” that mean mad or angry, as in pissed and pissed-off. Here’s one from the March 7 column by Austin bureau columnizer/reporter Peggy Fikac:
[Former Texas Medical Association lobbyist Kim] Ross acknowledged his ouster didn't much register with the public: “At the end of the day, the general public neither knows nor cares about someone in the lobby who's put to sleep by a pissed-off governor. My parents were upset.”*
Whoa daddy! And here’s another one from an entry in a March 3 story plumping staff members’ picks for "best movie" Oscar, by our old pal Andy Olin:
It portrays Jews not as self-deprecating and neurotic, a la Woody Allen, but as empowered, fearless and pissed off.
Wait, lookee here--a Chronicle deployment of piss in the literal scene, from a super-lame column on 2-16-10 by Norman Chad For the Chronicle (may not be his real name) on the Westminster Dog Show (or something---we can’t read the whole thing):
My Uncle Scruffy loves to tell the story about the time his dog-obedience class took a field trip to Washington, D.C., and he pissed on the White House lawn.
That’s a whole lot of pissin’ going on, Jerry Lee, and that’s just dating back less than a month. We stuck the word pissed into the Chronicle search engine and it returned 137 hits, but in a few of the more recent stories on the list we could find no piss, or even pissed-off-edness, so maybe the pissing (and moaning, too) was in the readers’ comments affixed to the online versions; prior to this year most of the pissing appeared to be confined to the billion-and-one Pulitzer-quality Chronicle blogs (not the tasteful, adult ones we read, though).

[According to our 1981 abridged edition of Slang and Euphemism by Northwestern University linguistics professor Richard A. Spears, which includes a full page and a half of piss-related entries, including the fantabulous piss-Willy (“an insignificant person”), piss itself is from Vulgar Latin and is onomatopoetic––makes sense––and “in some parts of the English-speaking world can be used in polite conversation without giving offense.” Well all right! as Mick Jagger used to say.]

We must admit that when we first noticed the phenomenon––or perhaps trend is the better word––were somewhat taken aback, although not shocked (in either the literal or over-used ironic sense of the word). Back in the day when we toiled at 801 Texas Avenue we’re pretty sure no piss would find its way into the Chronicle, because the Baylor alums who ran the editorial side were squeamish about the (public) use of even such mildly scatological terms, and, mostly, because they didn’t relish having to deal with complaints from pissed-off deacons among the readership who would’ve phoned into complain that Jesse Jones never, ever printed piss in the Chronicle. We remember some years ago––this was after we vacated the premises––the word “shit” somehow slipped into a story in the features section, resulting in all manner of h-e-double hockey-sticks to pay. Now we fear the day may be coming when “shit” will appear in the Chronicle on a piss-level frequency, perhaps even a f--k or two. We feel deeply ambivalent about this, like when the pre-Safeway Randall’s started selling booze.

[Our own policy on bad words is ... we don’t have one. We just go with the flow, do what we’re feelin’. And sometimes we feel like bustin’ loose with a piss or shit or even a f--k, although mostly we use dashes with the latter because we’re old and it even offends us. We use these terms not to épater le bourgeois but because we have a severely stunted imagination. (Also because, as we once heard someone say––it was the very Yoga Lady of whom we’ve written––”I’m from Louisiana so I cuss a lot.”)]

Just like the executive editor of the Chronicle, we don’t read the paper that closely, so as a control for our experiment we entered the term “shit” into the paper’s search engine and got 11 returns, all appearing to be found in comments affixed to blogs. Alas, the word “fuck” brought forth no returns from the newspaper itself, but it did yield “sponsored links” for “Want to Fuck” (no question mark––where's the copyeditor?) and “Free Fuck Videos.”

It’s a good thing Jesse Jones is dead.

Excellent line, former TMA lobbyist!


Robert Boyd said...

Yeah, 'cause he'd be fuckin' pissed.

The Fishing Musician said...

Like Robert said, Jesse's shit would be pissed!