Vanity Tags: More Work for the Word Committee?
The story of the state of Virginia's decision after 11 years to strip Arlington resident David Phillips of his "POOFTER" license plates because they are "socially offensive or disparaging" has inspired readers to note that there are a good many other tags out there on the byways that somehow got past the state's all-powerful Word Committee.
A reader in Prince William County saw "SEXYAS" rolling by; this could be an incomplete comparison, or a reference to a particularly notable posterior.
"PLESE H8" is the oddly polite request that sits on the bumper of a Mitsubishi that a reader kindly photographed for me.
(By the way, a new survey finds that Virginia has the highest vanity plate penetration rate of any state in the nation. Sixteen percent of Virginia drivers fork over $10 for a personalized plate, putting them well ahead of the nearest runners-up, New Hampshire, Illinois and Nevada.)
Across the river in Maryland, a reader was offended enough by the "IH8KIDS" tag he saw that he complained to the state DMV, which apparently did not share the reader's outrage, as the plate continues to appear on local roads.
(In Nevada, there's been a bit of a stink of late over the fact that the state stripped a woman of her "CANE" plates on the theory that the word might be a reference to "cocaine," even though the woman is a University of Miami alumna who was merely expressing her loyalty to the Hurricanes. The irony there was that Nevada saw nothing wrong with issuing plates that say "COKE." In a similar case, a woman who had tags for nearly two decades that said "XSTACY"--a woman, I should add, named Stacy--had them revoked by the state after someone complained that the vanity message was a drug reference.)
And back in Virginia, Chris Soghoian reports that his vanity tags read "BOLLCKS" for more than two years before he, like Phillips, got a letter from the state demanding the return of the plates because someone had complained about their message.
"Interestingly enough," he says, "they had a professor at VCU do a etymological search on the word 'bollocks,' which they included in their letter to support their argument that my license plate was obscene. So much for free speech."
Never mind the bollocks, the word is defined alternatively as a noun meaning testicles and a verb meaning to make a mess of or ruin.
Amazingly, while the state was busy spending your tax dollars getting BOLLCKS off the road, one of Soghoian's neighbors was happily driving around with "THATS BS" on his car, "and his plate never got taken away," Soghoian reports, proving once again that this is a complaint-driven business.
The irony here, of course, is that in Britain, where Soghoian grew up, bollocks is generally used almost exactly as Americans use BS.
Meanwhile, I sought permission from the state Department of Motor Vehicles to sit in on a meeting of the government's Word Committee--the panel that decides which words and messages are ok to be on a Virginia license tag and which are not. But state officials denied my request, saying that the presence of a reporter would chill the discussion, which naturally entails the use of all manner of untoward language.
Still, that ought to be a public meeting, doncha think?
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