How to get “D’oh!” and “Bullshit” into the OED

I’ve been writing about missing links in chains of quotation evidence in OED. In the first case [redress] I think it’s likely OED staff came across the word in The End of the Poem and didn’t think it necessary to chase down the full referential context (which would have been fairly evident from about one paragraph’s reading). In the second case [plain-sewing] it appears lexicographers intentionally suppressed quotations, either because they were deemed redundant or else to cover their tracks (but the dyer’s hand, and all that…). Another circumstance that can lead to evidence being left out of OED arises when the original source is referred to in a later source, but for some reason the original can’t be printed in OED.

For instance, in about 1915, T. S. Eliot sent a bawdy little poem called “The Triumph of Bullshit” to Wyndham Lewis. When the OED entry for bullshit was compiled in 1972, dictionary staff did not have access to Eliot’s unpublished poem, but they did have a letter from Lewis to Ezra Pound, published in 1963, and so used that instead:

c 1915 Wyndham Lewis Let. (1963) 66 Eliot has sent me Bullshit and the Ballad for Big Louise. They are excellent bits of scholarly ribaldry.

Now, the letter from Lewis to Pound is from c.1915. It is published in 1963. Eliot’s poem is from late 1910, according to Christopher Ricks’s chronology in his edition of Inventions of the March Hare: Poems 1909-1917, which was published in 1996. And it seems the word was in fluid circulation, at least among the modernists, in the ‘teens: as a LL post on this topic points out, ‘Ezra Pound used it in 1914 in a letter to Joyce: “I enclose a prize sample of bull shit.” ‘

So, what will OED3 do with the Lewis quote when it gets around to revising bullshit (which I imagine will need rather extensive redoing, what with the recent advances in bullshit scholarship)? Will the 1915 reference to 1910 be replaced with the 1996 publication of the 1910 usage? The 1910 date is, in any case, only Ricks’s best guess: he says it could also be a 1916 revision, in which case it’s Pound to Joyce that ought to be in, not Eliot to Lewis to Pound.

There’s another scenario, not at all unlikely, in which bullshit is discovered in print before 1910 – in which case both the Lewis and the Eliot might be in danger of disappearing, and the Pound never in danger of getting in.

D'oh!A similar set of second-hand evidence occurs in the entry for doh, of Simpsons fame (also discussed at LL, among other Simpsons popularizations, such as meh and LL-approved embiggen). OED added doh in 2001, with quotations starting in about 1945. Four of these are post-Simpsons, though none are actually from The Simpsons:

1991   Chicago Tribune (Nexis) 15 Nov. (Friday section) Pg- h,   ‘The movie had one good point: It wasn’t the worst movie I’ve ever seen.’ ‘It was the worst movie I’ve ever seen.’ ‘Doh!’
1993   HP Professional (Nexis) July 28   Along their long path ISO sort of missed local area networks and network management, which gave the market over to TCP/IP and related technologies. As Homer Simpson would say: ‘Doh!’
1996   A. Fein et al. Simpsons Comics strike Back! 14/2   ‘Look out, you dern fool! You’re gonna cut off your…’ ‘D’oh!!!’
1998   N. Jones Hollyoaks (Mersey TV transmission script) Episode 256. 44   Cindy: What are we doing here, anyway? Paul: Doh! Use your head, eh?

The middle two quotations are clearly borrowing from Homer. I think the first and last could be as well [though the Hollyoaks one strikes me as an alternate spelling of duh]. But the writers of The Simpsons are not quoted in the evidence. The lexicographers explain this lacuna in the etymology section:

Popularized by the American actor Dan Castellaneta who provides the voice for the character Homer Simpson in the U.S. cartoon series The Simpsons. The quotation below is his own description of its origin:
1998   Daily Variety (Nexis) 28 Apr.,   The D’oh came from character actor James Finlayson’s “Do-o-o-o” in Laurel & Hardy pictures. You can tell it was intended as a euphemism for “Damn”. I just speeded it up.
Although the word appears (in the form D’oh) in numerous publications based on The Simpsons, the scripts themselves simply specify annoyed grunt (as did the very earliest). Unofficial transcripts of the programme suggest the first spoken use was in a short episode, Punching Bag, broadcast on 27 Nov. 1988 as part of The Tracey Ullman Show. Its earliest occurrence in the full-length series was in the first episode Simpsons roasting on an Open Fire, broadcast on 17 Dec. 1989.

However, as the wiki page documents, the form D’oh does appear punningly in episode titles, e.g.:

D’oh-in in the Wind” (Season 10, 1998)
Days of Wine and D’oh’ses” (Season 11, 2000)
C.E. D’oh” (Season 14, 2003)
We’re on the Road to D’ohwhere” (Season 17, 2006)
He Loves to Fly and He D’ohs” (Season 19, 2007)
Waverly Hills 9-0-2-1-D’oh” (Season 20, 2009)
The Greatest Story Ever D’ohed” (Season 21, 2010)
The Falcon and the D’ohman” (season 23, 2011)
The D’oh-cial Network” (season 23, 2012)

And of course it’s not the case that d’oh doesn’t appear in transcript[ion]s of The Simpsons [and what counts as "official"?]. They’re all over the web, quoted by sources of varying reliability and repute. On the more reliable side, for instance, is IMDB’s quotes page for the episode “Bart Gets an Elephant”:

[after Homer runs over a deer]
Homer: D’oh!
Lisa: A deer!
Marge: A female deer.

If by this time (1994) “annoyed grunt” is what the writers put in the original teleplay, it is being done as a kind of inside joke, since only d’oh will do, here. There’s evidence that this might be a common practice among the writers. The following titles, for instance, [again from wiki], which are riffs on the previous d’oh title puns: Simpsoncalifragilisticexpiala(Annoyed Grunt)cious” (Season 8, 1997); “E-I-E-I-(Annoyed Grunt)” (Season 11, 1999); “I, (Annoyed Grunt)-Bot” (Season 15, 2004); “G.I. (Annoyed Grunt)” (Season 18, 2006)”.

2 Comments

  • D-AW wrote:

    Here’s a good example to get started on the revision of bullshit, from a review of Postmodern American Poetry: A Norton Anthology, 2nd edition, ed. Paul Hoover. The review is by Michael Robbins, published online today [read it]:

    “I really don’t want to write about Flarf, in part because there’s nothing worth saying about it — it’s just there, a dumb but harmless fad — and in part because its practitioners get off on being slammed in prestigious journals by reactionaries like me. But Hoover has bought into it wholesale, along with Kenneth Goldsmith’s so-called conceptualism, Brian Kim Stefans’s “cyberpoetry,” and the whole boatload of vacuous bullshit.”

  • mao wrote:

    Robbins is, of course, alluding to Allen Ginsberg’s line in “Howl”: “the whole boatload of sensitive bullshit.”

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