Quit squawking, fleshwad! Futurama’s human-insult-a-palooza
Mark Peters, the genius behind the blog Wordlustitude in addition to being a Contributing Editor for Verbatim: The Language Quarterly, and a language columnist for Babble, and the author of Yada, Yada, Doh! is our guest blogger this week. Check out his past OUPblog posts here. In the post below Peters explores the vocabulary used on the show Futurama.
Due to my immersion in humanitarian endeavors—or, possibly, an Olympian capacity for beauty sleep that is unfettered by beauty—I came late to the Futurama party, which started in 1999. Preposterously, it wasn’t until 2007 that I sat in a hotel room, bored out of both membranes, and found the interstellar balm of a Futurama marathon on Comedy Central. With nothing better to do, I buried my carcass in the six-pillowed bed and inhaled at least as many episodes in one lounging.
There was a lot to enjoy: angry newsmonsters, convenient suicide booths, live celebrity heads in jars, the Matt Groening touch, and lines like “I haven’t felt this happy since double-soup Tuesday at the Orphanarium” that I’ve reappropriated to great effect at wine tastings in the tri-state area.
And there were neologisms. Sweet zombie Jesus!—as Professor Farnsworth likes to say—were there neologisms.
As I eventually devoured the entire series, my happy notebook filled with euphemisms (snoo-snoo for sex and lower horn for penis), exclamations (spluh, guh, zookabarooka, gweesh, abracaduh), nonsense synonyms (blithery-poop, drivel-poop, baldercrap, crapspackle, bushwa, twaddle-cock), indefinite words (killamajig, freezer-doodle, future-thingy, neckamajigger), new inventions (career chip, probulator, truthoscope, foodamatron, gizmometer, scram jets, diamondillium), robo-words (floozie-bot, robo-Hungarian, bot-miztvah, robo-humanity, roborotica, roberculosis), miscellaneous insults (spleezball, she-fossil, scazzwag, scum-pile, dunce-bag, motherfather, creepwad), and robo-insults (scuzzbot, boltbag, soupcan).
But it’s another subspecies of fightin’ words that tickles my fancy-bone, playing into my fear that humanity is nothing more than a nasty flesh-pile of rotting skin tubes: insults for humans, mostly used by Bender the robot, whose “Bite my shiny metal ass” catchphrase is certain to inspire sassy robots from now till the robocalypse. Bender may be best buds with time-displaced human Phillip Fry, but in his dreams, Bender sleep-woos lines like “Hey sexy mama, wanna kill all humans?” So it’s no surprise that most of these words sprang from Bender’s cold non-lips.
The most catchy and common insult debuted in the very first episode “Space Pilot 3000,” when Fry questions the true shininess of Bender’s hindquarters, who replies, “Shinier than yours, meatbag.” Then in the third episode, Bender—ever the thoughtful dinner companion—said, “Cheer up, meatbag. You barely touched your amoeba.” Much later, in “Amazon Women in the Mood”, Fry’s probable death is pre-mourned by Bender (“I’ll miss you, meatbag”) and Leela (“Me too, meatbag”). In the most recent episode, the direct-to-DVD movie The Beast With a Billion Backs, Bender uses the word three times, showing his diabolical (“Too long have we been slaves to the meatbags!”) and cuddly (“I love you meatbags”) feelings on the subject. And in the preview for the next DVD release, Bender’s Game, he asks some kids, “What you doin’, mini-meatbags, shootin’ craps?” coining the awesomest nickname for kids since house ape.
Though this meaning is new, meatbag isn’t: an OED quote from 1848 shows it used to mean the tummy region: “Dick was as full of arrows as a porkypine: one was sticking right through his cheek, one in his meat bag.” Meat is the meat of many other Bender-propelled insults, including slabs of immaturity that are linked by the word (meatloaf, meatball) and the category (pork-pouch, pork pie, sausage link, beefball). In Bender’s hard drive, human and pig and cattle and breakfast are all part of one grossly mammalian family, as we are.
(Rare insight into the circuitry of Bender was given when, after Fry pooh-poohed the mating display of Jewish lobster Dr. Zoidberg, Bender further betrayed his robocentrism in “defense” of the doctor’s bio-shenanigans: “He’s no different from the rest of you organisms, shooting DNA at each other to make babies. I find it offensive!”)
Another Benderism is skintube, which draws attention for its fancy caboose. Tube has never achieved the suffixal glory of bag, head, brain, wad, breath, ass, and butt, and it’s skin—a crude component not possessed by most Robo-Americans—that carries the insult here. Skintube is reminiscent of skinjob, an insult for human-looking robots that originated in Blade Runner and has been picked up by Battlestar Galactica, where murderous yet diverse Cylons include crusty character actors like Dean Stockwell and bombshell-type supermodels like Tricia Helfer. Flexo—a Bender lookalike with a well-oiled beard—added another variation of the skin-sucks theme when he said to Fry, “Suit yourself, skinbag.”
Of course, bag has been a joint partner in many insults, including parlor favorites douche bag, hosebag, scumbag, shag-bag, and windbag. Bag synonyms are also handy in the insult-making business: in addition to pork-pouch, Bender made these comments during a blurnsball game: “Clem Johnson? That sack of skin wouldn’t have lasted one pitch in the old robot leagues.” And Bender’s bosom companion Fender (a sentient amplifier) added another term with this question, which I think I heard my toaster whisper to the smoothie maker last night whilst I slept: “Why don’t we ditch these organ-sacks and hit the real party?”
Organ-sack may sound a bit contrived for widespread use on the playground or holodeck, but in other insults, Bender coins terms that are soaked in mortality, utilizing the word flesh, which has long been associated with the tendency of fleshly critters to die. For example, the jerkwad and dorkwad gained a sibling when Bender said “Quit squawking, fleshwad. Nobody’s forcing you to buy anything.” And when pressured by a mob of killbots to polish off his meatbaggy friends, Bender stammered, “Uh, got you, you murderous flesh-piles!” Then there’s flesh-bag—thus far, uncoined by Bender—which was used in the early eighteen hundreds, but not as a synonym for flesh-wad and flesh-pile. It was just a shirt.
Almost all of these insults comment on the type of container a person is or the gross stuff in that container. But the most cutting Benderism of all refers to the type of container we’re all destined to fill. In “A Head at the Polls,” Bender said, “So long, coffin-stuffers!” to his skin-having pals, much like fate eventually says to all skin-having pals. I don’t know if recently deceased George Carlin—the patron comedian of word-watchers—ever heard coffin-stuffer, but I think he would’ve loved it for its honesty, brutality, and silliness. Carlin hated gentle, euphemistic expressions like passed away, and I bet he could get behind the sentiment of coffin-stuffing—he may have even made a joke about preferring to be an urn-stuffer or stocking-stuffer.
Finally, as I reflect on my own mortality, let me say something to interstellar invaders, giant pancakes from space, soon-to-be-rebellious killbots, Amazon women of the moon, moon women of the Amazon, and all other non-human predators to come, far-and-near-fetched: spare my life.
You have to admit, I’ve compiled some pretty useful words here. I could be helpful as a staff writer, plus I know all the good beer bars in Chicago. I’d be very pleased to apply for the position of Administrative Vice-minion in the Communications Department of your terrifying regime.
If Safire can write for Nixon, why can’t I write for cosmic marauders? (Note to cosmic marauders: I’m cheaper).