Dirty words

Politics + Other Mistakes
By AL DIAMON  |  May 8, 2014

A lot of people think state government is an arbitrary and capricious entity, more inclined to promote chaos than the public good.

Seems like a fair assessment to me.

They claim bureaucrats routinely ignore serious problems while intruding in matters best left to individual judgments.

They’ve got a case.

Just check out the rules for vanity license plates issued by Maine’s secretary of state. Free speech, as envisioned by the Founding Fathers, has no place on the bumpers of your car.

I realize the words and phrases you’re permitted to use on vanity plates may not qualify as the most crucial case of governmental infringement on our constitutional rights. Just because you can’t adorn your vehicle with a plate that says IDIOT, JERK or STOOPID doesn’t mean you’ve been stripped, in Putin-like fashion, of all opportunities to express these opinions. But it does demonstrate the random nature of regulatory systems and how easy it is for them to lose connection with any rational basis for their actions.

It’s one thing when this lack of common sense blocks your lifelong desire to display a plate reading BOOGER, MUCOUS or SNOT. It’s quite another when it starts to edge over into political expression, a topic I’ll be exploring in more detail next week. But for right now, let’s enjoy some examples of how STOOPID government can be when given a little too much power.

In all, the secretary of state has a list of over 6,400 expressions that can’t appear on license plates. Some are obvious choices: swear words and their myriad variations, ethnic and racial slurs, and certain bits of urban slang (such as POACH, which even by its street definition of stealing another person’s girlfriend seems pretty innocuous). But a sizable segment of the words and phrases that may never be hammered into raised metal letters is composed of stuff you could say in your grandmother’s presence without eliciting even a hint of disapproval.

According to the secretary’s website, you can’t have a license plate that says OTHER. Nor is TOILET a permitted term. And fans of Boston Red Sox second baseman Pedroia may be perplexed by the discovery that DUSTIN is banned, until learning that the term has certain sexual connotations, none of them particularly obscene.

Incidentally, the word SEX is on the no-no list, as are EROTIC and SEDUCE.

Body parts get strict scrutiny. BREAST is deemed offensive, as is WOMB. And don’t even think of trying for any term relating to male or female genitalia. Almost anything using GAY is verboten, as well as LESBIAN, STUD, NUDIST, and NAKED. GIGOLO in a variety of spellings and misspellings fails to make the grade. And for reasons that escape me, GELDED and CONDOM are both prohibited.

You won’t see many drug and alcohol references on license plates. Among the terms deemed detrimental to society are BEERDOG, BEERME, BOOZE, and DRUNK, as well as anything remotely related to marijuana, including an abbreviated CANABIS, a seemingly harmless HEMP, and a guilty-by-association KILO. “Doonesbury” fans should be forewarned that their application for ZONKER will be summarily rejected.

Scatological terms are obvious ones to get the ax, but it seems like humorless excess to ban BRDPOO or COWPIE. And the exclusion of VOMIT makes me MAD (nope, can’t have that) enough to commit CARNAGE (but not on a license plate).

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