Evasive Maneuvers

Euphemisms old and new

Bullbirds, Bullfeathers, and Other Euphemistic Malarkey

Hey guys, I wrote a book. Fittingly, I can only state its title euphemistically in this column about euphemisms. It’s sorta called Bull*#@$: A Lexicon.

Not being able to name my book could be construed as an obstacle in my quest to use this column for shameless self-promotion. Or is it? In fact, the vast majority of my book is non-sweary, and it includes a heckuva lot of euphemisms. So I’m going to whet your BS appetite while sharing a bunch of real terms that euphemize BS using the formula bull plus… well, just about anything. As the always wonderful Green’s Dictionary of Slang and Historical Dictionary of American Slang show, bull X terms are piled high in the lexicon of colloquial English.

Disclaimer: All these terms are as real as horse apples.

bullbird

On It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Frank Reynolds was surprisingly tasteful when he used this zoologically questionable term, which I absolutely love. Bullbird is alliterative and absurd: it’s as unnatural a hybrid as the centaur, and therefore fitting for BS that’s also an affront to everything decent and right.

bull butter

This rare term was recorded by college slang collector extraordinaire, Connie Elbe. It also turns up on a 2013 post of a Houston Texans message board asking, "Can Schaub take us to the Super Bowl?" An outraged commenter (is that redundant?) responds: "That's bull-butter! The guy is obviously the weak-link. They know better than anyone but they will never say it publicly." Warning: Bull butter does not go well with meadow mayonnaise. 

bull dust

Among many other meanings besides the literal, dust has sometimes been a term for excrement, as seen in this term, plus donkey dust and gorilla dust, which was used by the late Phil Hartman on NewsRadio. The wonderful Dictionary of American Regional English traces another variation, heifer dust, back to the 1940s. Sadly, I can find no lexical examples of labradoodle dust.

bullfeathers

While not as common as the equally euphemistic horsefeathers, this term can be found here and there. It has a few other close relatives: pig feathers and the Australian kangaroo feathers. A New York Daily News article from 1974 includes this memorable use: "You are adding apples and oranges and getting bull-feathers."

bull-fodder

This term apparently originated in Australia, and it dates back to the early 20th century. A 2013 comment on an article from Capital Hill Blue uses the term: "Yes Alcohol impairs judgment….look at the platform and the policies. They have to be drunk to think the American people will buy their bull fodder." I reckon bull-fodder sounds a little like bullfather, a somewhat redundant term that reminds me of another excellent euphemism: gentleman cow.

bull hockey

This may not have the same ring to it as horse hockey, but bull hockey conveys the same meaning in a folksy way. According to DARE, hockey is mainly used in the South Midland of the U.S., and it’s preferred by children, which I take offense to, because I prefer the heck out of it. Bull hockey is pretty commonly used. In a Huffington Post article by David Goldstein, he memorably makes this rebuttal: "To this I say...well, let's keep this family friendly...I say, 'bull-hockey’." The term also turns up in Pats Pulpit: "Tom E. Curran shares John Harbaugh's explanation of his 'legal' version of the Patriots trick play, (which is full of bull-hockey)." Bull hockey has no etymological or athletic relationship to bull pucky, another downhome, all-ages term.

bull muffins

I don't have much to say about this term other than it is closely related to one of my all-time favorite euphemisms for BS: meadow muffins.

bullroar

This one is found as far back as the 1970s, and it’s still around, like in this 2001 use in The Daily Howler: "Why is such a high-level bullroar permitted, without a peep of critical comment?"

bullstuff

Man, I love this word. Terry Cox uses it well in the Reno Gazette-Journal: "In the next two months, the inundation of ads from tout services will be like a Slide Mountain mudslide. You will need a pair of hip waders to slog through all of the bull stuff." Stuff was in the news recently as a euphemism when Jeb Bush said, "Stuff happens." 

bull-sugar

In August, the Dallas Morning News grabbed this classic euphemism in a roundup of quotes:

"Consumers have been taught that if they’re good, responsible drivers, they’ll get a good rate. That’s basically bull sugar." — Birny Birnbaum

It’s common to hear "Sugar!" as a euphemistic exclamation, though I prefer Marge Simpson’s "Sugar booger!"

bullwash

And here’s a term with a link to another segment of the BS lexicon that is fairly prolific: the hogwash family, which also includes eyewash, mouthwash, pig wash, and prop wash.


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Mark Peters is a language columnist, lexicographer, and humorist who has written for Esquire, The Funny Times, New Scientist, Psychology Today, Salon, and Slate. He contributes to OUPblog and writes the Best Joke Ever column for McSweeney's. You can read Mark's own jokes on Twitter, such as, "I play by my own rules, which is probably why no one comes to my board game parties anymore." Click here to read more articles by Mark Peters.

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Comments from our users:

Sunday December 6th 2015, 1:03 PM
Comment by: Daniel B. (Bozeman, MT)
I must be missing a grammar rule here. Bullbird, but bull butter; bullfeathers, but bull-fodder; bullstuff, but bull-sugar. Is there rule for deciding if a certain euphemism is two words, one compound word, or hyphenated?
Sunday December 6th 2015, 1:05 PM
Comment by: Daniel B. (Bozeman, MT)
.... Is there a rule ....

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