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
  • Print
  • Share


Sort By:
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 4, 2013
My instinct would be to go for Stanky Bas, III.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 3, 2013
Oh, for f&%^ sake, who can be insulted by the words Bastard or Turd??? I can merely understand (if not forgive) the ones who feel that their religion, other system of beliefs, place of birth, etc., are insulted, and write to complain. But this?

Anyway, the ones who will (if any) complain about Basturd are not the ones who keep the papers in circulation because of Dilbert comics. Go for it.
Feb 3, 2013
Don't mention the character's name (except maybe the first) and create a spinoff web comic called "The Taxing Adventures of Stanky Bathturd"
Feb 3, 2013
I like AtlantaDude's suggestion of Rob Steel as an alternate. Or Bill Udry.
Feb 3, 2013
Skanky Bass, III?
Skanky Blistard?
T. Bass Durdley?
Bill Legitimate?
Abe Absturd?
F. N. Stressurd?
Iva Dogmama?
Hugo Dell?
Ben Dover?
Feb 3, 2013
Call him "Sploop." It's a combination of "splash poop" that runs on the bathturd theme but no editor will be able to figure out.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 2, 2013
"Bastbert" - sounds like Dilbert, Ratbert etc., and like that word you can't put in print.
Feb 2, 2013
You're the artist and should have freedom of expression. Go for it.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 2, 2013
4. Solicit blog fans for the name - you have mostly done this already.

Show some fan love, there are some clever ones lurking about.
Feb 2, 2013
Keep the name, but reduce its offensiveness by not using it all at once. Refer to him alternately as Stanky or Agent Bathturd.
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 2, 2013
I give you, free of charge, a character name that has real class -- Angus N. Herba. It is derived from *anguis in herba,* Latin for *snake in the grass.* Give us liberal arts geeks a chance this time, please.
Feb 2, 2013
I would drop the Stanky. Make his first name descriptive like Royal or Rampant or Toto. Either change the u to an i or add a y at the end. Toto Bathtird. Rampant Bathturdy. Then give the character a lisp so nobody's sure what his name really is... and he can be frustrated as he tries to get them to call him Mithter Bath-tur-dee. He could even give up and ask them to call him Rampant. Or Ram. Or Pants (nod to the Oatmeal). That might just be more offensive in different ways, but I always think lisps are funny.
Feb 2, 2013
Try backwards spelling. Bastard = Dratsab.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 2, 2013
Is it necessary for the joke? If not, drop it. It feels out of place in Dilbert and "Bathterd" will still make half the people angry.

The important people (us) have already seen your brilliant wit and will have it in our heads when we read the cartoon.
Feb 2, 2013
3... Go for it

"Shven Teraider" or since it really fits the premise when it comes to taxes... the classic "Ben Dover"
-2 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 2, 2013
I would say go for it. The art exists exactly for this reason: to push the boundaries of everything. And anyway, too much decency easily turns into prudishness and hypocritical puritanism.
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 2, 2013
I think it's awesome. With no idea of how many will reject it, I have no idea how an editor should react - but it's funny as hell.
+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Feb 2, 2013
I think cmj is on to something with changing the spelling to be less obvious. Regardless of the spelling, the whole name feels unwieldy as it is. I wonder if you couldn't make it a female character named Beth Tird, if that will still trigger a mental sound of bastard. "I don't like that Beth Tird."

If you stick with some variant on Stanky Bathturd, you might be more subtle with Stan K. Bathturd. Intials used to form word sounds add to the funny.
Feb 2, 2013
Asian heritage? Bathtsurd
Feb 2, 2013
I am the last guy in the world to find potty language offensive and horrible - but somehow "Bathturd" is a bit too unmasked, almost obvious. My feel is that it doesn't quite fit into the Dilbert universe, which otherwise does well with its dry elevated language.
Get the new Dilbert app!
Old Dilbert Blog