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May 24, 2004

A Condom By Any Other Name

I never knew the scumbag connection.

From Romenesko's Letters, these two missives:
Scumbag vs. dirtbag 5/21/2004 3:21:56 PM

From FRANK DEHN: It's indeed possible that "scumbag" has so completely penetrated the lexicon that most folks under 40 don't know its provenance. By contrast, those of us over 40 know exactly where the word comes from and can recall the first time, around 1973 or '74, we started hearing the much more socially acceptable version, "dirtbag," used to describe nasty people, as a way of avoiding the more eyebrow-raising term.

The scumbag vs. dirtbag distinction reminds me of another term that entered the lexicon a few years later. In the late '70s, the more or less socially acceptable term "wuss," meaning a milquetoasty type with no cojones, came into vogue in college.  Everybody my age and younger knew that "wuss" was a derivative of "wussy," which was, of course, a derivative of "wimp" + "pussy."  The latter term was not socially acceptable, but "wuss" flew under the radar with disapproving parental units and other authority figures, as (as far as I know) it still does today.

Diminished shock value 5/21/2004 3:11:58 PM

From STEVE KIELTY: I just asked my 22 year old son if he was aware that scumbag was a euphemism for a condom, and he was not. So I guess there is a generational disconnect going on here. As to whether it is an appropriate word for a cartoon strip,  when a member of the U.S. Congress (Dan Burton) refers to the sitting President (Bill Clinton) as a scumbag, it appears that the shock value has been diminished to an inconsequential level.