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Crap occurs

In Medway, Massachusetts, a septic-system service happens to be located pretty much across the street from an elementary school. This would be absolutely unremarkable, except the owner of the company puts his slogan on all his trucks. Which means that numerous times a day, the kids at the school have the chance to look out into the street and see, in big bold letters, "SHIT HAPPENS."

I am practically a First Amendment absolutist, but I have never had the slightest respect for anyone who puts profanities on their vehicles. It's crass, its' crude, and it's offensive.

Let me clarify that: I have nothing against things being offensive. But I have a huge problem with someone being RANDOMLY offensive, just ticking off anyone within eyeshot or earshot. It's self-centered and annoying, with the offender loudly proclaiming that THEIR right to be offensive trumps anyone else's right to simply be left alone.

I don't think that there ought to be any legal ramifications for this particular jerk, but I'd like to have his business' location and slogan loudly trumpeted, and people who think he's just being an asshole stop giving him their patronage.

Yes, Mr. Trufant, you have every right to be a jerk. And yes, it's clever. But for heaven's sake, will you stop rubbing our noses in it?


Comments (29)

You'd prefer a "Guaranteed ... (Below threshold)
BumperStickerist:

You'd prefer a "Guaranteed Overnight Delivery" terminal?

Begins to sound like politi... (Below threshold)
spurwing plover:

Begins to sound like politician or a enviromentalit or a diapar FULL OF CRAP AND ALWAYS ON YOUR BUTT wheres rotto rooter when you need them?

What about the rights of th... (Below threshold)
josep malik:

What about the rights of those individuals who actually wish to receive Mr. Trufant's 'zinger'? Would it be right to deny those citizens their freedom to view random messages?

Why not just get rid of all... (Below threshold)
josep malik:

Why not just get rid of all billboards, bumperstickers, junk mail etc? I find the majority of those items offensive, and what's more, I have never explicitly granted anyone permission to shove advertisements in my face.

Is the "Shit Happens" sign ... (Below threshold)
AndrewSpencer:

Is the "Shit Happens" sign really random? I mean, it is a septic service system--seems pretty on target to me.

Besides, certain words are only as profane as people make them. To this day I don't understand how a mere word, without context, is offensive. Like if someone standing next to me said "fuck" out of the blue, am I supposed to be more offended than if he said "duck", or "cluck" or "fluck" instead?

Now, if someone standing next to me turn to me and said, "you suck", I would be offended, because of the context, not the word. I would be more offended if a stranger said to me "you suck," than if my friend said to me, in jest, "you fucking suck," because it is in the context, not the word itself, where if find offense. I don't care if my kids swear, as long as they understand the contexts in which it is [not] appropriate (e.g., telling your buddy to kiss your ass = okay. telling a teacher to kiss your ass = not okay).

"Shit happens", to me, is pretty innocuous, but, then again, it is all subjective, and while I think it is fine and even kind of clever, others might think that it's "RANDOMLY offensive, just ticking off anyone within eyeshot or earshot" and "self-centered and annoying."

But in the end, whether my take or Jay's take is "correct" will best be decided in the market, with people who have a problem with it taking their business elsewhere, while people who do not find it offensive, or whose value of business transaction outweighs their offense, taking their business to him.

Efficient business vs. "morality" - it's an awesome death match to watch.

Out of all the crap (pun in... (Below threshold)
bugz:

Out of all the crap (pun intended) going on in the world, stuff like this falls WAAAAAY down on my 'give a shit' list.

Besides, have you ever heard elementary age kids talk? It's not like they've never heard (or used) the word 'shit' before...

There are two quotes that c... (Below threshold)

There are two quotes that come to mind here, neither of which I can fish out exactly. One is the aphorism about vulgar language being the province of small minds.

The second is from Robert Heinlein's novel, Friday. One character explains to another that it's historically a sign of the decay of a civilization when people routinely stop acknowledging everyday polite behavior.

I'd go very far out of my way not to give the company in question my business on the basis of these two principles, and I would let them know about it.

Free speech is not without consequences.

PS They would have gotten ... (Below threshold)

PS They would have gotten a lot of mileage out of something more clever and thoughtful, like "Waste Matters," and the infinite meanings people could come up with using their own faculties.

Mr. Trufant, help yourself to my idea, and good luck cleaning up your act.

Nit picking pet peev... (Below threshold)
B Moe:


Nit picking pet peeve of mine, but this is actually a vugarity rather than a profanity. Unless of course it is holy shit.


"Shit happens", to... (Below threshold)
"Shit happens", to me, is pretty innocuous, but, then again, it is all subjective, and while I think it is fine and even kind of clever, others might think that it's "RANDOMLY offensive, just ticking off anyone within eyeshot or earshot" and "self-centered and annoying."

Um, would you feel the same way about a handyman company named "Rent-A-Nigger"? One could argue that the workers are touting their willingness to toil all day at work their clients are unwilling or uncapable of doing, with very little compensation, just like blacks were forced to do in the days of slavery, flatly denying any intrinsic racial slur. Could you say that its accuracy in that light would override its patent offensiveness?

If not, accept the cold, hard fact that some words are improper for public use and/or display, offer this idiot a 24-hour period to change his slogan, or fine him out of business.

He could have been just a little more suttle, and had a nonoffensive, but memorable slogan: "It Happens" or "Because It Happens", but he instead chose to go with offensive instead of humorous, for explicitness rather than nuance.

And this goes way beyond his right to be a cretin.

What BoDiddly said. And FYI... (Below threshold)
Old Coot:

What BoDiddly said. And FYI, I've got two boys in elementary school and the "S" word came up very early in their school yard chats whilst playing wall-ball. .

Bo Diddly has a strawman. H... (Below threshold)
josep malik:

Bo Diddly has a strawman. How nice.

Next thing you know, some s... (Below threshold)
josep malik:

Next thing you know, some similarly censorship-minded, thin skinned idiots will demand the UK's Saint George flag be changed bcuz its offensive.

Oh. That's already happened?

BoDiddy,Your post ... (Below threshold)
AndrewSpencer:

BoDiddy,

Your post goes to my point about the context (and let me emphasize that the argument of my post is that this is all subjective). In the context of "rent-a-nigger" you must ask: what is the context? In the absence of any explanation, as you have provided, the context of the phrase is that niggers (an insult slur for "black" or "african-americans") are available for rent. (Please also keep in mind we dont "rent" people, we "employ" them (even if it is functionally the same thing) (and please don't bother with revising the hypothetical to read "employ-a-nigger" instead)).

If a black man on the street outside sees a black buddy of his and says, "wha's up my nigger?" will his friend take offense? Probably not. If that friend is handed a flier with the phrase "Rent-a-nigger" across the top, will he be offended? Probably. Context, baby, context (not, as I think you assume I meant, explanation).

The reason why the word "nigger" is bad is because in the context that most people (read: not black people) use it is in a way (read: all ways) that tells an entire group within our culture that they are inferior and establishes and reinforces the stereotype that they are lazy and former slaves. The problem with the word "shit" is that, um...well...I don't know, do I insult you or your family or people or lifestyle or culture or something with the use of the word "shit", or do you just not like the way it sounds? Other than having been raised to know that "shit" is a "bad word", where is the offense?

Finally, what if the handyman company was named "Rent-a-nigger?" If enough people found it offensive, it would go out of business. If not, the word would slip into common usage and eventually lose its offensive connotation, as words often do.

I also remember the quote about vulgarity being the province of small minds, and I agree. So-called bad words are filler that makes it easier to get a point across than coming up with the most accurate words and phrasing to do so.

So...that being said...

What about the word "pussy"? I personally hate that word. Should we ban it? "She's got a hairy pussy" = bad. "That is an adorable pussy cat" = okay? Would you okay a sign that says "I love wet pussy?" How about a sign that read "Adopt a pussy cat"?

How about "Hoover Dam"? Is that okay? "You're a damn fool" - not okay?

"My shit zu just had puppies" - Okay? "Shit happens" - bad?

"Kiss my ass" - bad? "we need five asses to plow this field." - okay?

"She's got cute tits" - bad? "A tit for tat strategy" okay?

"Suck my cock" - bad? "U.S.C. cocks are #1!" - okay?

"She's a b*tch" - bad? "The breeder has two b*tches available at going rate." - okay?

You get my drift. It's not the word, it's the context.

I'm not saying that all words are okay all the time and all so-called restrictions on them should be dropped. My point is:

1. They're just words, there's a lot worse out there. If a guy wants to put "shit happens" on the side of a truck, I don't think that disables him or anyone else from being "polite". Politeness isn't the words you use, it is the way you treat your fellow man.

2. It is the context of the word, not the word itself, that dictates its level of profanity, or vulgarity.

3. The afrementioned level is subjective. Some people, like BoDiddy, suffer bleeding eyes when they see the phrase "Shit Happens". Other people, like myself, don't get offended so easily.

4. I personally think that "Shit Happens" on the truck is humorous and pretty clever, but then again, and as you can see from my posts, I'm not offended by it.

5. Finally, and I in no way mean to be impolite, but just wish to make a point: A man puts the phrase "Shit Happens" on the side of a truck and he's a "cretin". BoDiddy also calls this man "an idiot". Query: how is name calling any better than using the word "shit"? I would rather hear my child say "I need to flush my shit down the toilet" in my presence than to have him call me an idiot. One is a harmless use of a so-called "bad word", where is one is clearly disrespectful and insulting and offensive.

Tee bee wrote "it's historically a sign of the decay of a civilization when people routinely stop acknowledging everyday polite behavior"--

Doesn't everyday polite behavior require not calling people "idiot" and "cretin"?

I really need to learn how to write shorter posts.

How's this for censorship?<... (Below threshold)
AndrewSpencer:

How's this for censorship?

When I tried to post, the site said that I could not because questionable content. The page said "the following is not allowed: 't..'"

So I scourged my post, searching for potentially prohibited words or phrases that began with the letter "t". I tried blipping them out, so to speak, but nothing worked. Then I tried deleting a set of elipses after the word "that". That was it--that was the questionable content.

Just goes to show--questionable content is very subjective!

I also just realized my post was very long. Sorry about that, I'm kind of wordy, I guess. It's a living.

Why stop at "Shit"? His tr... (Below threshold)
moseby:

Why stop at "Shit"? His trucks could also say:

"Red Tampons Happen"

"Vomit Happens"

"Baby Alligators Happen"

The list is endless....

What exactly would be the d... (Below threshold)

What exactly would be the difference if his trucks said "Crap Happens"? Means the same thing. Is one any more vulgar than the other? This seems so closely related to politicially correct language and it's ridiculous backers that I just can't make myself care. Or should that be I just don't give a crap?

Legally, I think nothing sh... (Below threshold)
Faith+1:

Legally, I think nothing should be done.

I prefer the concept of metting people decide their reaction to his slogan. I concur that the slogan is an attempt to be 'cute" but just comes across as being a jerk.

He has every right to act like a jerk.

And I think the public reserves the right to treat him like one...

"If not, accept the ... (Below threshold)
B Moe:


"If not, accept the cold, hard fact that some words are improper for public use and/or display..."

This assertion, and what words would fall under it, I would consider an opinion rather than a fact.

I'm still unsure that it's ... (Below threshold)

I'm still unsure that it's possible to contextualize "shit" to make it non-vulgar.

Even George Carlin (hardly an advocate of anti-obscenity laws) acknowledges that certain words stand alone in their meaning, devoid of any non-vulgar meaning, unlike several others mentioned above.

As to my reference to the owner of this company being a "cretin" and an "idiot," allow me to quote Webster's dictionary's definition of the terms:
idiot: a foolish or stupid person;
cretin: a stupid, vulgar, or insensitive person

So was I leveling an insult, or offering a descriptive term? Isn't "offensive accuracy" the crux of your defense? It's actually "shit" that we're talking about here, so if it's ok in your book for him to use an offensive term, why can I not use a descriptor to which you take offense, rather than politely choosing "insensitive" or "foolish"?

Bullwinkle, I used to pretty much hold to the philosophy that to allow government to censor any speech (expression, etc.), no matter how potentially offensive, would have the implied effect of empowering government to censor anything offensive to its own purposes, thereby blocking many things that may be good and proper. Then I noticed that the things that are good and proper are being blocked anyway. If a mention of God in the Pledge offends an Athiest, let's change it. If the word "shit" offends a Christian, well, for lack of a better phrase, "tough shit."

B. Moe, self-definition of statements (and/or language elements) is really the crux of our debate here.
How many legs does a dog have? Four.
How many legs does he have if you call his tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it one.

It's crude. It degrades pub... (Below threshold)

It's crude. It degrades public discourse. Rather like Howard
Stern. Yes, I know he's popular. Doesn't ease the fact that he's vulgar.
He can be funny though and there's the rub. If Winston Rothchild (http://redgreen.com/index.cfm?app=cart&a=view_cast&castID=14) there had come up with something like ' Shhh! It happens." it would have a lot more (I can't believe I'm going to use the word) palatable.

A few years ago our town ha... (Below threshold)
spurwing plover:

A few years ago our town had a new sewer system put in a resident sued to stop the project until they had a sewer backup in their house dont you wish this would happen to the eco-freaks?

BoDiddy--Call him ... (Below threshold)
AndrewSpencer:

BoDiddy--

Call him idiot, cretin, stupid, foolish, or whatever--my point is that he would probably be offended and insulted.

Say the word shit (or even say "shit happens") outloud--it's just a word until you contextualize it and make it offensive (e.g., calling someone a shithead). Just like the words idiot or stupid are just words until you level them at someone with some semblance of disdain or disrespect (the fact that your are calling him an idiot knowing nothing more about him than that he used the phrase "shit happens" on his truck lends me to think you were being disdainful, rather than descriptive. Descriptive would have been: "the use of that phrase is idiotic/foolish/stupid".)

I do not take offense to anything you say (disagreement is not offense), and I am not saying you can't call him an idiot or say whatever you want (God love this free society). My point is that if one is concerned about "polite society" (which I'm not) one should not call someone an idiot any more than anyone should use the word "shit." I think you can and should call him whatever you want--he will take issue as he pleases--but if you are going to be the ruler on what words should and should not be allowed, you should expect to be held to the same "polite" standard as he is.

BTW - Carlin's acknowledgement was not one of agreement, but he was marveling at the fact that there words are words that you cannot say, regardless of the context, and he thought this was inane (e.g., "Tits? That sounds like a nickname!")

And bulwinkle should probably respond to your last point, but I will just say that I don't think the use of the phrase "under God" in the pledge is "offensive" to atheists, I think they just see it as an establishment of religion by the government--why not "under the gods"? as they often say. If you painted "under God" on the side of your vehicle, I don't think they would be offended as your are by the phrase "shit happens" painted on someone else's vehicle. Thus, that argument is inapposite to your point.

And the fact that some things that should not be censored are censored is the worst reason for censoring more things that should not be censored.

Finally, just to be clear, Christians do not have a problem with the word "shit." (lest Christians come off in your post as super-sensitive about everything).

"B. Moe, self-definition of... (Below threshold)
B Moe:

"B. Moe, self-definition of statements (and/or language elements) is really the crux of our debate here.
How many legs does a dog have? Four.
How many legs does he have if you call his tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it one."

That is totally beside the point. Those are obvious facts. Another obvious fact is I could care less that a plumber has shit painted on his van. I am not offended, therefore the word is not offensive to me. That makes it's vulgarity and appropriateness a matter of opinion.

Andrew, most Christians I k... (Below threshold)

Andrew, most Christians I know do have a problem with public vulgarity, regardless of the specific word used.

I do know the context Carlin was using, but the point remains the same--there are words that are deemed offensive or vulgar regardless of context--and it matters little whether he agreed with it. He stated it as fact, albeit subject to ridicule.

Say the word shit (or even say "shit happens") outloud--it's just a word until you contextualize it and make it offensive (e.g., calling someone a shithead).

Think the FCC would agree? No, the word shit is not dependent upon context, unlike "pussy" or "cock." It's much more like "nigger" in that to attempt to "clean" it through contextualization is nothing more than an attempt to justify self-defined standards, as opposed to those standards that are socially accepted--hence my original example.

You can't say certain things in public, you can't show certain pictures in public, and you can't engage in certain acts in public. It's not a matter of legislating morality--it's a matter of enforcing civility and maintaining a society of common decency. To continue to legitimize the taboo for the sole purpose of challenging the status quo is to contribute to the downfall of that society.

Nobody to this point has offered even one argument that indicates he achieved any higher goal by his choice of words than with any of a number of other, less offensive options.

BoDiddy,I think we... (Below threshold)
AndrewSpencer:

BoDiddy,

I think we're arguing about different points. My point about context and "offense" is based on a personal standard, i.e., at what point is an individual insulted by a certain word? I am arguing about the offensiveness of the word itself, your argument already assumes the word's offensiveness and moves on to other arenas.

I just don't see how the word "shit" is offensive. Whose feelings are hurt? Who's made out to be inferior? Who is being told they're fat, ugly, slow? Who am I insulting if I say "shit"? We all know who I'm insulting if I say "nigger".

My point is, "shit" is just a word made based on sounds created by a combination of letters. Just like "frak". We, as a society, have decided that "shit" is somehow bad and "frak" is okay. I am only saying that this decision is arbitrary and challenging it because it is arbitrary, not for the sake of disrupting the status quo. If there are legitimate reasons for the status quo, it will withstand any challenges that it faces.

And let me re-emphasize that the word "shit" is NOT like the word "nigger". "Nigger", in and of itself, is an insult to a particular group of people. "Shit", in and of itself, insults no particular group, as far as I know.

Whether the FCC agrees is beside the point - they draw arbitrary lines for broadcast communications. This thread has nothing to do with the FCC's arbitrary line or broadcast communications.

And I didn't say that Christians don't have a problem with public vulgarity, I said that Christians don't have a problem with the word "shit". The word "shit" is not public vulgarity. (I also should have qualified this statement to restricted it to Christians I know, but my point remains.)

Please explain to me in clear terms how the word "shit" is bad (for example: "nigger" is bad because its use degrades a group of people in our society. The dictionary definition of the word "nigger" is "lazy", among other things, and use of the word "nigger", which has come to be associated with blacks and African-Americans, affiliates people of this race to lazy and slothful behavior. This relegates them to inferior status in our society. "Nigger" is also associated with use by racist whites, who often use the word in an attempt to assert superiority to blacks. Thus, the word "nigger" in our society, is considered bad). Is there a similar explanation for the alleged vulgarity of the word "shit", other than that you were told growing up that it was a "bad word" or because someone (the FCC, your mom, George Carlin) tells you it is vulgar? If not, then I think we've reached the stalemate of this discussion.

"Please explain to m... (Below threshold)
B Moe:


"Please explain to me in clear terms how the word "shit" is bad"

I don't remember the details, but I seem to recall reading once that alot of our "vulgarities", including shit, were common old English words that fell from favor during one of the periods when France occupied the Isles. Alot of English terms were considered coarse and common and were supplanted by French words during periods of occupation.

I refuse to bow to French conventions.^^

And to BoDiddly:
"Nobody to this point has offered even one argument that indicates he achieved any higher goal by his choice of words than with any of a number of other, less offensive options."

It got peoples attention and stuck in their heads, there is no higher goal for advertising.

My point about con... (Below threshold)
My point about context and "offense" is based on a personal standard, i.e., at what point is an individual insulted by a certain word?

I have understood from the beginning the crux of your argument. In short, each person makes a "personal" decision whether something is offensive.

The problem with that is that it leads to a complete breakdown of society, as any given word, deed, or image can be construed as offensive by an individual, if societal norms and customs are discarded; and conversely, any word, deed or image can be legitimized in the absense of those standards.

Whether we were "taught" that shit is a bad word is irrelevant--as if there exists any word the definition or inflection of which wasn't "taught."

By your attempt to defend the word, "a word made based on sounds created by a combination of letters", you render every word in any language meaningless. I don't know of a word that isn't based on sounds created by a combination of characters. No words could possibly be made offensive simply by its sounds (or perhaps all could be), nor could any word be divorced from its meaning and remain functional for language.

If you can't accept that the sound of words are intrinsically tied to their meanings (both definition and inflection) in this system we call "language," then we are at a stalemate.

" No words could possibly b... (Below threshold)
B Moe:

" No words could possibly be made offensive simply by its sounds..."

shit, crap, feces, excrement, poo, caca, do-do

The only difference is the way they sound, yet some are offensive, some are not, and some are funny.




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