Tuesday 19 November 2019

Of the Gibbon, the Jockey, and the Womble

Image result for gibbon old printThe post will be about rude words. Well, rude compound words to be precise, but they're still very rude. If you are an infant or heavily pregnant, or lightly pregnant, or if you are easily offended (as so many are in these offended times) you should stop reading now, leave the Internet, and go and sit beneath a sycamore tree and weep at what the world has come to. Otherwise, read on.

Still here?

I was once driving in Wiltshire, doing just a smidgen over the speed-limit (which was 50mph, as I recall) and being tailgated at a distance of, I would estimate, two or three inches. It was remarkably dangerous as I couldn't even have dabbed the brakes without causing an accident. One of the other chaps in the car referred to the driver behind us as a "fucking knob-jockey".

I like this term. It amused me. But I did not at the time think that much about its structure.

Sometime later, I came across the term "cock-womble", this also amused me, but I did not think that much about its structure.

Lately, clever people have started thinking about such phrases, and a new technical term has emerged, and I mean technical, it's the term that you use in academic papers and the like. The term is Shitgibbon. 

A shitgibbon is formed when you take a one-syllable rude word, be it shit, fuck, cock or whatever, and then add a non-offensive trochee. A trochee is a two-syllable word with the stress on the first syllable. The resulting compound - knob-jockey, cock-womble or etc - is a shitgibbon.

The shitgibbon is the subject of a recent paper entitled Vowel but not consonant identity and the very informal English lexicon, which was written by Anne-Michelle Tessier and Michael Becker of
Simon Fraser University and University of Michigan and Stony Brook University. And these two have thought a lot about the shitgibbon's structure.

You can read the whole thing here. But the big point that I had never noticed was that a shitgibbon works best when the vowel of the rude word is the same as the first vowel of the trochee.

Shit-gibbon has two short i's.

it ib

Shit-monkey doesn't, and doesn't sound nearly as good.

Knob-jockey has two O's

So does cock-womble.

Meanwhile, dick-womble, doesn't sound nearly as good.

The paper's authors did an awful lot of research, which you can read in the original paper. They did surveys asking people how funny and satisfying any particular shitgibbon was and the compared it to a null hypothesis etc etc etc etc.

What's weird is that alliteration had no effect. Only assonance makes a shitgibbon work.

So, if you want to make your own shitgibbon (I now feel like a degenerate Blue Peter presenter), just pick a rude word. Identify the vowel. Then pick a trochee that has that vowel in the first syllable. Et voila:


Image result for gibbon old print
I cannot quite tell what the gibbon on the right is holding, but I hope it's fruit.


  1. ah... please don't use Turd Burglar, as it's a derogatory term for a homosexual man.

  2. And you think knob-jockey doesn’t also refer to gay men. That’s the whole point behind such insults. They are supposed to cause harm and insult. I really don’t think the person using them stops for 5 seconds to wonder it will offend any gay men in the vicinity.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. I second these pleas. Please edit, Mark, to use nonsense examples that are not established homophobic slurs.

  5. Surely that's the point. These are by their nature insults. And he did refer to cock-womble. Also remember that Mark was being offensive towards individuals or groups it was you who was taking it.

  6. My wife recommends twat waffle.

  7. A fun article but I definitely back the suggestions to use fictional terms like Nerf Herder instead of established homophobic slurs as examples.

  8. "...or if you are easily offended (as so many are in these offended times) you should stop reading now, leave the Internet, and go and sit beneath a sycamore tree and weep at what the world has come to."

  9. ....people LOVE to declare their Snowflakism"

  10. I'd suggest this comment is rather a Space Waster

  11. Doesn't this rule also apply to terms of endearment? EG lovemuffin etc.

  12. Is there a word for people who read a post that's very clearly about offensive language, and then complain that it contains offensive language?

    Also, you forgot wankspangle.

  13. OK...Here are some of the ones my 'team' and I use at work (in the privacy of our own company I hasten to add!) - spunk-juggler, cum-monkey, shit-shifter, arse-licker, tit-nibbler, bum-chundler, and more. I for one know that these can not be homophobic as I, myself, am gay and this is known by my work colleagues and....Oh!....hang on, wait a minute....!