The Gray Lady and Her Sad, Shared, Empty Bag of "Douche"S

Where, exactly, are you supposed to start when the New York Times runs a Page One media piece on the word "douche"?

Times media writer Edward Wyatt penned a soft, round filing that was about the word "douche." It appeared on today's front page.

This word is one with which this website (and media network) has a wide breadth of experience with. In November, 2006, former Gawker scribe Emily Gould wrote:

Don't get us wrong. It's not that (50%) of our delicate ladyish sensibilities are offended or anything; far from it. It's just that, as vagina-havers, we want to branch out a little bit in the realm of vagina-related insults. Also, we couldn't help but notice that the trope is now so bitten and tired, it pretty much begs to be called "Already Over" (if Already Over wasn't Already Over, obvs). Plus, Dolce has co-opted it for his own use. What a fucking asswizard!

Before we go any further, can we just say that "azzwizard" is kind of magical?

Anyway. People, as we are, can't be without first-stone casters. Observe:

The Gray Lady and Her Sad, Shared, Empty Bag of "Douche"S

I really, really hope there aren't actually 17,400 results for the word "douche" on Gawker websites that can't be cross-referenced with Joe Dolce.

But for a moment, back to Wyatt's piece. He didn't write about how the word evolved from a technical term of feminine hygiene to a schoolyard pejorative, to a favorite of bloggers and mediocre satire writers alike, to a Times media piece. No: that'd be too meta, and too interesting, and too far into the purview of their excellent After Deadline column.

In a newspaper where the word "fuck" is too vulgar as to only be printed once in its entire history—despite the word "fuck" and its entrenchment in our daily lives, in politics, popular culture, literature, and I'm sure its handy usage around Times' bullpens—they penned a piece based on the statistical usage and adoption into sitcom television, where every decent slang word goes to die.

It's filled with numbers about usage, and quotes from TV writers about how they employ it, like this one:

"As a writer, you're always reaching for a more potent way to call somebody a jerk," Dan Harmon, the creator of "Community," said about the word "douche." "This is a word that has evolved in the last couple of years - a thing that sounds like a thing you can't say."

It doesn't get much more interesting than that, except for a line about how the show that once presented the American Public with Dennis Franz's tuchus decided to give it an evolved go:

Users of the recently popular word "douche" defend its use, noting that it was invoked, usually with the suffix "bag," in the 1990s by the character Andy Sipowicz on "NYPD Blue," an ABC series that frequently pushed the boundaries of network acceptability.

Naturally, since this story dropped, the Gawker Weekend inbox has been brimming with glee and excitement.

There are a few angles to take on it. Mediaite's Joe Coscarelli reflects much of the sentiment I've already heard out there in his lede:

I bet you never thought you'd see the day when you could pick up a copy of the New York Times and see the word "douche" on page one. And we're not talking hygiene!

And NYTpicker, that anonymous scourge of the New York Times' newsroom, takes out his or her butcher knife and gets to work on how typically bullshit the numbers used to create this story are, making a special point to note that the Times calls the word "offensive to many people" but doesn't say who those people are:

But seeing TV reporter Edward Wyatt and the NYT base its front-page reporting on numbers the paper actually requested from the Parents Television Council — a notoriously conservative TV watchdog group that has brought 99 percent of all indecency complaints before the FCC (we learned that from an excellent 2004 NYT story) — makes us a little sick. The PTC has been around since 1995, founded by conservative commentator L. Brent Bozell, and is responsible for complaints to the FCC about the Janet Jackson nipple slip and cursing on "NYPD Blue."

NYTpicker's right, and Joe Coscarelli's right. It's patently ridiculous that the Times uses generalized opinions to substantiate their numbers, to help give their story a case. There's also something inevitably entertaining about watching a newspaper as prude as the Times give the word "douche" some kind of once-over, even if the story behind it is fairly flimsy.

But honestly, this all just kind of brings me down.

Believe me, the last thing I want to do is rain on the parade of fun that is the New York Times using the word "douche," as someone who can only die happy once Clark Hoyt calls one of the Styles writers a "fuckface" in his Public Editor column. But let's talk about this like adults, kind of, for a moment. As someone with a strange affection for vulgar language, I only see this as an intense letdown.

To do this story two years ago would've been one thing, as the numbers slowly rise into becoming a trend, before it hits fever pitch. But for this story to run now, without Styles writer Allen Salkin's byline—and Salkin would've done way better with this—is absurd. Besides the fact that it's boring and plucked from a bullshit ether, the potential they laid waste to with this one is absurd. Mainly: to address the issue of creating new terms that don't exhaust themselves more and more on each usage. For example:

Where did the word "douche" come from in it's literal, non-slang implication?
Who were the first people to make the word "douche" a pejorative?
Who appended the word "bag" to the word "douche"?
Who uses this word every day?
How long has it been around?
Who (besides Gould/Shafrir/Balk/Sicha-era Gawker) has called this word over?
And what media outlets use it on a regular basis? But mostly:
Who's offended by the word?

There's nothing interesting about the word "mediocre" unless it's placed in an interesting context. On the inverse, the word "fuck" is almost always interesting, if only because it begs the question of necessity. The idea behind using a word like "douche" or "fuck" is to emphasize or exclaim something, it's to aid a common goal of writing or speaking, the reason people like me love language: to communicate an idea to someone you otherwise couldn't.

But what does the word "douche" communicate, exactly, besides the kind of person who would use it?

Maybe someone who's just unsavory in some regard, or someone who's typically unaware of their uncouth behavior. Or someone who does something your way of going about things disagrees with. There're way too many words like it. Maybe people just enjoy the way it rolls off the tongue, or maybe people actually enjoy employing the connotation of a Feminine hygiene product (which is the point all you nu-Feminists should take to say the exact same thing Gould said three years ago).

But really, the word douche is just like the story the Times did on it, and the generalized sources—the "some people" who "may be offended" by it— they used. It's empty. It means nothing. It's a completely subjective assessment of somebody who does something you don't like. I know people who use the word "douchebag" when referring to other people; I'm willing to bet those same people use the word "douchebag" to refer to the people referring to them. And I'm most disappointed when people I know who use the word could find something more concise, or shocking, or linguistically artful to go with. It's sold at the Wal-Mart of pejoratives. It's cheap, it's made en masse, and there's nothing but bad preservatives in the ingredients. Let's all—The New York Times, Bloggers, TV Writers, Those Who Use The Word "Douchebag," Those Who You Would Call A "Douche," Bar Patrons, Sports Fans, English Professors, Joe Dolce—become better communicators, and find something better than the word "douche" and it's mediocre suffix "bag" to go with.

Or, you know, we could just judge each other a little less.

Since none of these things will probably happen in the foreseeable future, just go with "douchenozzle" until it does. At least it sounds funny.

[Related Reading - Commenter VioletViolet makes a salient point: "I still think the NY Times article on "vajajay" was worse, although at least it wasn't on the front page. When you're asking Gloria Steinem for her opinion on a term that's use was mostly limited to The Soup, you're in trouble."]