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I'm working on some Dilbert strips that will be published in early April. The series will feature a new character that works for the government and looks like a monster. His job is to make the tax code more complicated for no reason, with Dogbert's help of course. My problem is the name I've given this character: Stanky Bathturd.

Newspapers are about thirty years behind network television in terms of what they consider acceptable content for the general public. You can say turd on network television - if you don't say it too often in one episode - but you could never print the word turd in a comic strip that runs in newspapers.

But what about Bathturd? Is that worse than a plain turd, or is it less offensive because I hid the turd with the bath, so to speak?

The genesis of the name was that I was trying to come up with something that reminded the reader of "bastard" without crossing the newspaper decency line. I considered Batherd, Bastord, and other spellings, but none of those felt just right.

Then Bathturd popped into my head. It sounds like bastard but it has the added benefit of sounding like bath-turd. It's doubly offensive, and I call that a homerun.

But can I get away with it?

Some innocent words have turd in them too. Sturdy and Saturday comes to mind. But Bathturd seems worse not only because I intend it to be naughty but because it is preceded by Stanky.  And when you hear the word Bathturd you can imagine a turd floating in your bathtub. That's worse. Case closed, right?

But wait. If my made-up name sounds like two entirely different naughty words - bastard and bath-turd - then it doesn't really refer to either one of those bad words specifically. Can I get off on a technicality? Stranger things have happened in the world of editing.

Complicating this decision is the humor layer. As a general rule, the funnier a comic is, the more you can get away with. I can't show you the comic ahead of time, but assume it's somewhere in my normal range of funniness. Also working in its favor is the crowd-pleasing theme of hating the government's tax system. I can get away with more if every reader agrees with my central point, and I think that would be the case with this one.

So let's say you are my editor and you know there is a 100% chance that a few newspaper clients will reject this comic. That's not the end of the world because they always have the option of running a repeat, and that happens a few times a year with Dilbert for exactly this sort of reason. But you don't want to inconvenience your customers, so ideally we want to avoid the rerun option.

No matter what, the Stanky Bathturd comic will end up on the Internet, either on the main page of Dilbert.com or in this blog. And no doubt it will be forwarded from there. So don't worry that the comic will be wasted.

There's also the two-version approach. I can change the character's name for print clients and publish the naughtier version online. I've done that a number of times over my career, but the scrubbed comic without the funny name might just float there like a . . .  bath turd.

As my editor, what do you do?
  1. Kill the clever name but keep the comic.
  2. Change the clever name for print clients only.
  3. Go for it (and know newspaper clients will complain)
Your opinions will likely influence the decision.

 
Rank Up Rank Down Votes:  +97
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Feb 11, 2013
I apologize for not reading all of the comments before adding mine. I know it's rude, but there are too many.

Some newspapers will not carry your comic, but most will. The controversy will add to your readership however, as everyone who is not allowed to read it in their newspaper will want to see what the fuss was about. Either way, you win. Don't dumb down the comic just because the editors won't like it. The faithful will respect you more.
 
 
+7 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 6, 2013
I think the name is too crass.

Alice, Dilbert, Dog-/Ratbert are al neutral names and their personality isn't unclear at all.
Topper and Mordac are neutral too.

Personally I'd be in favour of you coming up with a name that fits better into the dilbert tribe and is funny and possibly descriptive without being crude.

I mean, look at elbonia. If you needed a country of dumb people, would you call it as primitively as, say, "stuphidia" in 2013? I hope not.
 
 
Feb 5, 2013
The only problem I see with "Bathturd" is that it's more gross than funny. Therefore, my vote is to create a funnier name that has no editorial issues. It never ceases to amaze me how there are thousands of men (all likely over the age of 50, mind you) in America who actually and willingly go by the name of "Dick." Good morning, Dick! How's it going, Dick? Good to see you again, Dick. I have to stifle my inner sophomore every time I encounter it, yet there goes Richard, going about his business as if there's nothing wrong with it at all. There was a guy who worked at my previous company by the name of... wait for it... Dick Quiggle. True story. I wouldn't lie to you. I also knew two Richards who started a house-flipping business, and their business checks literally said, "Dick & Dick Enterprises." These chaps, at least, got the joke and ran with it. I ask you though. In 2013, who, in their right mind, willingly goes by this name anymore? Of course, perhaps this is a "legacy data" problem at its finest. It's not as though these Dicks can suddenly stop one day and proclaim, "Don't call me that anymore. Please use 'Rich' instead." There has to be a comedic gold mine of opportunities here, Scoot. Whoops, I mean Scott. Therefore, I propose Dick Bathfurt as this character's name. I would have gone with Dick Swingline, but we don't want movie producers or stapler manufacturers going after you. Plus, those Bathfurts sure are stanky. Go ahead and use it, man. I won't even sue you or anything. Dick Bathfurt, C.P.A.
 
 
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 5, 2013
How about changing the spelling slightly to Stanky Tathburd? I think the readers are sophisticated enough to spoonerize the syllables and know what you're really meaning.
 
 
+13 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 5, 2013
I like Stan K. Bathterd, III. It gives the hint of a multi generational poor parental decision making.
 
 
Feb 5, 2013
I love Stanky Bathturd. That definiitely needs to be put online. It is the reason why I like your blog. Being a little naughty is good.

Make your clients happy. I like the suggestions of Stanky Bathurd and Irving Paymore.
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 5, 2013
i got to the 2nd paragraph & stopped. Newspapers still exist?
 
 
Feb 5, 2013
1) That's the best name you could imagine? You used to be more subtle.

2) It always annoyed me when the paper ran old comics. Sure for you it's no thing but your fans are missing out if your humor is unnecessarily hidden behind crassness.

3) Why not call him SBT to bump your blog traffic?
 
 
Feb 4, 2013
I cannot believe how many people are pretending to be offended by "Stanky Bathturd". It's not like you named him !$%*! !$%*!$%*!$%*! Ignoring the fact that not only do children not read the newspaper, but literally no one does, if you give in to censorship, which this essentially is, you do us all a disservice. Print your concept as you intended it, and let the newspapers make the wrong move, again. They can't have but another few years in them either way.
 
 
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 4, 2013
Why not use Batherd or Bathurd? Those preserve the original intent while hinting at the hidden alternative.
 
 
Feb 4, 2013
Go for it!

If you don't cross the line once in a while how do you know you're anywhere near it? Times change and this name may not be as generally offensive as you or your editors think.
 
 
Feb 4, 2013
@topsully

[I think that because kids read the comic strips we need to be more sensitive that network TV.]

...Umm...you think kids are that much likelier to read comics than watch network TV? As a kid I was virtually addicted to TV but could take or leave comics.
 
 
Feb 4, 2013
Is it essential to the strip that the character have a name at all? I think that because kids read the comic strips we need to be more sensitive that network TV. If there's no real need for the name then I say go for the strip but use no name. If the character needs a name to make the strip funny then I say use the name and let those few editors run the r-run. I know that wasn't one of the options you presented and I'm sorry I took the liberty to add an extra option, but it seemed like a possibility.
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 4, 2013
Go for it!
 
 
Feb 4, 2013
Don't use the name. Think not of what you can get away with, but what's right. We ought to elevate the level of American culture, which your comic strip does. Also, I want to be able to show your books to my kids so they can learn about business.

Artistically, your suggested name is not good because it attracts too much of the reader's attention. That's fine for the very first, single, introduce-the-character strip but bad for later strips when you'll want honest laughs. And where you want laughs at all, maybe.

Also, your name is too ill-natured for your strip, which is light-hearted even when savaging its characters. To make suggestions, it would be useful to tell us one more piece of info. Is the character stupid and bureaucratic, or fiendishly clever and evil? Actually, your name doesn't work for either. That goes for the Stanky part too.

I'll write back I can think of some lighthearted names, but that's a talent of yours. Interesting thought: who could do better with suggestions (not decisions--- that's definitely You), you by yourself or your crowd source?

Are there any names w ith the initials I. R. S.?

Irving Paymore? Taxman (like Batman or Superman, needs a cape).

A final piece of advice: don't make your final decision on hte name anywhere near April 15.

 
 
Feb 4, 2013
How about Catberts brother Kitbert?
 
 
Feb 4, 2013
Personally I think an excellent name for an IRS rep would be Robin Leach, but that name's been taken.
 
 
Feb 4, 2013
1. I think you can get away with bathturd, but stanky bathturd. I actually don't think the name Stanky is funny. Change Stanky to something else. how about Romeo.
 
 
Feb 4, 2013
You could always make it a Slimy BassToad.


If not, change the name for print only, put the original on your site.
 
 
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 4, 2013
I'd go for number 2: that way the clients are happy, the editor is happy and the strip gains value - saying "this is a strip my clients wouldn't publish" makes it different than regular strips (I remember searching some older dilbert strips just because they weren't published, and I'm fairly sure I wouldn't be the only one). In fact, if the story gets popular enough, you may even get a couple paragraphs in some online news sites. Two months later, you compile a "Dilbert uncensored" book with all those strips.

And for alternate ways of naming the guy, I suggest "Battard" (his father was french).
 
 
 
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