Congratulations, Toronto Star! You're pioneers of print: Today, thanks to TV columnist Vinay Menon, you officially become the first mainstream newspaper to employ the word "douchebag" as a descriptive term. The person about whom Menon waxed so eloquent was MSNBC's Tucker Carlson, who, as reported last week, will soon be dancing with the stars. Menon, who seems to disapprove of Carlson's extracurricular television choices, recalled Carlson's days on CNN's "Crossfire," where "he often came across as just another smug douchebag in the beltway."
Well! This ETP editor cops to having been a little shocked at the word (I would have used the "Canadians are delicate and innocent" excuse here but it would seem not to apply, given that the Toronto Star is Canada's largest daily newspaper). Curious, I did a search for the term; turns out it had been used by Star colleague (and now well-known blogger) Antonia Zerbisias in October 2004, coincidentally in describing "Crossfire" and Jon Stewart's infamous appearance thereon. In this case, however, Zerbisias was quoting directly, noting that Stewart had affectionately nicknamed Robert Novak "Douchebag For Liberty." Which technically qualifies as "news" as opposed to "wanton and gratuitous use of offensive terms in a family newspaper."
Was it Canada? Was my homeland secretly a bastion of lax moral newspaper standards and general newsroom debauchery? I turned to The Globe & Mail, that bastion of Canadian journalism: one match, also coincidentally in reference to Jon Stewart (this time in a review for "America: The Book" and the term is also used to describe Bob Novak). Next came the venerable National Post (or, venerable-ish after that whole Iran-badges-on-clothes thing) — a search in Canada.com yielded no usage of "douchebag" (and presumably, less-than-exacting reporting on Jon Stewart).
I turned to the U.S. papers: The New York Times, no ("Your search for douchebag in all fields returned 0 results"); The Washington Post, no; The Chicago Tribune, no ("No articles found on search for: douchebag"); and, somewhat surprisingly, the Los Angeles Times, no (you'd figure aggrieved Hollywood types would go a little blue now and again). Weirdly, the Boston Globe turned up a match — from 1994, and a story on "L.A. Law," wherein a character with Tourette's was quoted saying "Thank you . . . douchebag." And you thought Larry David was a pioneer. This was network!
The final frontier: Nexis. A quick search turned up 37 uses for the word "douchebag," sixteen of which came courtesy of Gawker Media. For some reason, that figure seemed low. One each from the New York Post and the New York Daily News, each quoting a third person (in an interesting irony, the NYDN quoted MSNBC's Keith Olbermann, using "douchebag" on ESPN radio in late June. Language, Keith, language!). The rest were from alt-weeklies (OC Weekly, Houston Press, New Times Broward-Palm Beach) — save for two from the New Republic, one by blogofascist Lee Siegel, quoting a fan, and the other by Jason Zengerle, paraphrasing fans of Ned Lamont.
Let the now-pretty-exhaustive record reflect that that paraphrase is the closest any mainstream publication has come to using the term "douchebag"; in every example cited above, the term was used specifically to indicate its use by a third party as an direct slur. With his column today, Menon has taken it a step further and has himself employed the term as a slur, becoming the first journalist to do so in a mainstream publication, and his editors the first to let it slide. Given the hoopla last month over the various printing of President Bush's use of the word "shit", I think this counts as a notable envelope-pushing moment in the evolution of print standards and mores. Given the term's typically profane nature and it's not-unmisogynistic connotation, I find it disappointing that Menon chose to use the word, and that the Toronto Star chose to publish it.
*Since I'm not in Canada I can't say with certainty that the term was in the printed version of the paper, but Menon is a columnist for the paper and based on that I think it's a pretty reasonable inference. But please account for that possibility.