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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?

By Marc Fisher |  November 14, 2007; 6:20 AM ET
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"a new survey finds that Virginia has the highest vanity plate penetration rate" !?!?!?

That "penetration rate" comment appears offensive. Maybe there should be a public meeting to discuss this.

Posted by: SoMD | November 14, 2007 8:43 AM

I saw one in Virginia that said RUB1OUT. I can't imagine how that one made it passed the committee.

Posted by: Rich | November 14, 2007 8:53 AM

Virginia's Word Committee meets in secret? What kind of a cabal are they running?

Posted by: TheGreenMiles | November 14, 2007 8:54 AM

The whole notion of a Word Committee is fundamentally flawed. When did it become the state's responsibility to determine what sppech is acceptable in a free society?

Posted by: Leesburger | November 14, 2007 9:40 AM

Nice Sex Pistols reference, Mark.

Posted by: frenchyb | November 14, 2007 9:47 AM

I saw one in DC last week (same day as the chat on the subject) -- Virginia -- SSA BKWD. I'm still laughing at that one!

Posted by: WDC 21113 | November 14, 2007 9:48 AM

There is a Honda Civic in my neighborhood that says COPSSUC. I just wonder how may times he/she gets pulled over and the officer says "so we suck, huh?".

Posted by: TheRedBandit | November 14, 2007 10:02 AM

Several years ago, I encountered a pickup, driven by a scuzzy looking guy, with the VA plates "WANA69". Eww. My first thought was, "Maybe, but not with YOU!" Wonder if that's still on on the allowed list.

Posted by: mclean | November 14, 2007 10:10 AM

This kind of word must be very taxing for the DMV employees. I hope the University of Virginia has enough PhD candidates in Applied Lexicology and Lexical Semantics to keep the Word Committee up to full strength.

Posted by: Mike Licht | November 14, 2007 10:23 AM

I never understand the appeal of vanity plates. They're usually pretty embarrassing, like BENZ or TOPDOG or something. We'd eliminate the whole problem by sticking with standard plates.

But that said, POOFTER is really funny. It's like watching chef Gordon Ramsay on "Kitchen Nightmares" and "Hell's Kitchen" and seeing him get lots of British vulgarities past the FOX censors. The other night he kept telling kitchen staff learning to throw pizza dough that they were great "tossers." Ha!

Posted by: Plate H8TR | November 14, 2007 10:36 AM

Stupidest vanity plate I saw was on I395 near Edsall rode Va state troopers had some young punk pulled over in his Civic with a coffee can exhaust and he was spread eagle on the pavement. Plate read
PCKINA9. As in carrying a 9mm pistol. He was eating pavement as they searched his car. Probable cause you bet.

Vanity plates carry a risk. They are easy to remember and make you a very easy target. And any bad actor can get you address etc from your license plate in a few minutes.

Posted by: Fred | November 14, 2007 10:54 AM

The real joke is the 400th anniversary ad
that they tag on for free No one thought
how to remove this eggregious remeberance
of slavery? I guess not. Thats why they
are the vainest of the vain.
The tage should be Virginia is for illegals
or welcome to Mayberry with a few extra bucks

Posted by: John | November 14, 2007 10:57 AM

John - were you educated in Mayberry? You have wonderful sentence structure.

Posted by: Arlington, VA | November 14, 2007 11:16 AM

There is an expensive, yellow sportscar often parked near 25th and L St, NW with the plate "Big Pooh." I laugh every time I see it.

I've seen the offensive RAM IT IN on a pick up in Virginia a few times.

Posted by: DC | November 14, 2007 11:23 AM

The best one I saw was on a sports car from Kansas -- HIOFICR. Wonder how many times they got pulled over...

Posted by: Alexandria, VA | November 14, 2007 11:40 AM

So you take the guy's "POOFTER" plates away.

He can still plaster his car bumper to bumper with "POOFTER" stickers, right? So what does censoring vanity plates really accomplish?

I would say if it's not illegal to put a word/phrase on a bumper sticker, then don't waste time worrying about it being on a license plate.

Posted by: burke | November 14, 2007 11:56 AM

What about all the obnoxious religious references on vanity plates?

Posted by: philly | November 14, 2007 12:24 PM

I'm a little surprised this many people took time from sending text messages to get this upset about vanity plates.

Posted by: CW | November 14, 2007 12:37 PM

DC and Maryland have "Word Committees" for their vanity plates as well, by one name or another.

Why don't you start by sitting in on one of them for a session for some background on how they do their jobs?

Your persistence is eventually going to get Richmond to crack, and more likely on the Word Committee than the Cho/privacy/mental health reform.

At the very least, Chap Petersen owes you one.

Posted by: athea | November 14, 2007 12:46 PM

Let me know when the subject gets to other words displayed on cars.

The words that caught my eye and still remain in my memory:

"Pearl Harbor Survivor" license plate cover ... on a Honda Accord.

Posted by: SoMD | November 14, 2007 12:56 PM

I put in a complaint about STFU but I don't know what the result was.

Posted by: Spectator2 | November 14, 2007 1:13 PM

I currently have a cute vanity tag, only because I lost a bet with co-workers and could not get the one I wanted (WKNSKZR). Va said NO loud and clear; however every morning I see "BGAZRAM" in Dumfries and on HOV heading towards the Pentagon. Yep, they are attached to a Big A@@ (Dodge) Ram. Nuff said.

Posted by: MissPat | November 14, 2007 1:13 PM

It's amazing how many people have no sense of humor and their dark ages mentality ruin it for everyone else. I enjoy the vanity plates it gives you something to do while you waste gas in DC traffic jams.Of course the spineless goverment officials will cave into these PC idiots and tags that have been on the road for years are suddenly deemed inappropriate.

Posted by: Bruce | November 14, 2007 1:26 PM

Years ago, I saw a sports car in Shirlington with:


Gotta think they've taken that away by now.

Posted by: TMU | November 14, 2007 1:27 PM

Funny how all it takes is one complaint to the state to get a specific vanity plate revoked, but there are drivers tooling around clearly displaying porn on their DVD screens without a care in the world.

Posted by: MizTeeJay | November 14, 2007 1:49 PM


Can't figure out tell....

Posted by: Fairfax | November 14, 2007 1:57 PM

Regarding the EJAQL8 plate:

The owner of that plate was a colleague of one of my friends. My friend told me that someone eventually complained and the EJAQL8 plate was confiscated. Virginia gave him a chance for another vanity plate, and the guy picked a variation of MACABRE.

That said, I plan to complain about the next pro-Jesus vanity plate I see. Can someone post the e-mail and snail mail address of the complaint office at VA DMV?

Posted by: Mister Methane | November 14, 2007 3:01 PM

Don't do it; ah'm gonna getcha!

Posted by: jesus | November 14, 2007 3:45 PM

re: Poofter's plates -- I remember driving behind that car a few years back in Rosslyn. It made me laugh. He also had a bumper sticker that said "One more convert and I get a toaster."

Posted by: arlington | November 14, 2007 4:55 PM

I have to agree that the religius plates are the most annoying. They do serve a purpose--they et me know to get out of the way. Many of these "Saved" people are the most selfish, aggressive drivers on the road.

Posted by: C-Dog | November 14, 2007 5:04 PM

What's wrong with STFU? If you're savvy enough to know what it means you shouldn't be offended. Whose virgin eyes are you protecting?

Posted by: get a life | November 14, 2007 5:11 PM

I had a neighbor in Arlington with a reference to fisting on his plate, and saw another even more vulgar and clear reference to fisting in Falls Church, along with JUSSEX (wonder how well that works as date-bait...) Now I live in Reston, and there is a jacked up red truck with an NRA plate that says Gun Ho. Yesterday I was behind a Mazda SUV in Arlington that said M ISLAM. But you can't say WINE or MNOPAUS or POOFTER? Please.

Posted by: Tax Dollars at Work | November 14, 2007 5:15 PM

Saw one in Arlington that read "OMG WTF" and I still laugh about it. It's like "STFU." The letters aren't offensive in and of themselves. It's only what they purportedly stand for.

Posted by: Vienna | November 14, 2007 5:22 PM

A favorite of mine is a Miata I saw with "H8SUVS". I am not surprised to find Virginia "leads the nation" in vanity plates. I was shocked at the number of them when I moved here. The original article I read about Virginia's title linked to a site with plates on it that I can't recall. I was surprised that the UVA plate with the "V" logo on it followed by "AGINA" was still on the road.

Posted by: Burt R | November 14, 2007 7:16 PM


Can't figure out tell....


Yeah, anyone have a guess?? It's been bugging me since it was posted. I think I know what the first few letters stand for...

Posted by: WDC 21113 | November 14, 2007 7:19 PM

For a few years in the '90s, I drove around with Virginia plates that read, "VANUDE". I actually got "thumbs up" signs from several other people while I was driving. It only stopped when I moved to West Virginia, where they charge double for vanity plates...

Posted by: MeowGoodness | November 14, 2007 7:40 PM

SoMD can't handle penetration. HA!

Posted by: Frederick | November 14, 2007 9:40 PM

SoMD can't handle penetration. HA!

Posted by: Frederick | November 14, 2007 9:40 PM

What's with people who have nothing better to do with their time than to complain to the DMV about other peoples' license plates? You seriously need to get over yourselves.

Posted by: Ken | November 15, 2007 7:15 AM

Keep your eyes on the road and concentrate on your driving. You should not be watching the movies in some else's vehicle. And if want to watch adult films I will.
My right and here in Va if you take it aay from me I take my pistol off the front seat and defend myself.

Posted by: Fred | November 15, 2007 12:36 PM

This is my 1st chance to view blogs since I posted earlier this wk. For inquiring minds; WKNDSKZ: 2 words and yes the 1st is "WEEKEND"; clue: I have to be a professional during the work wk. Seriously; it's all about having a good sense of humor.
Have a great weekend and be safe this holiday season.

Posted by: MissPat | November 16, 2007 8:35 AM

I must really be tired; that should have been WKNSKZR and the clues are still the same.

Posted by: MissPat | November 16, 2007 8:42 AM

I am a patriot, a soldier, a Democrat, and a fierce opponent of censorship. The First Amendment in the Bill of Rights does prohibit Congress from making any law that abridges the freedom of speech. Nowhere in the entire Bill of Rights does it say anything at all about guaranteeing a person's right to "not" be offended.

This entire topic about being offended at something on a vanity plate lends itself to the Judge that erected a monument of the Ten Commandments in his courthouse and a comment he made in response to a question he was asked by an NPR reporter. When asked if it would offend him if another Judge erected a monument of the Koran in his courthouse, the Judge replied that he would indeed be offended. But he immediately added that while he would be offended at the sight of a monument of the Holy Book of Islam in a US courthouse, he would not seek its removal as the Bill of Rights does not offer any protection to those that find something offensive.

In the event you sad, close-minded simpletons find that you are offended by something; be it a radio show, a TV show, someone's DVD player in their car, bumper sticker, vanity plate, clothing, behavior, diction, lifestyle, hobbies, habits, preferences, attitude, hat, tattoo, curtains, dog, mudflaps, eyelashes, choice of landscaping, or anything else the radical religious right can dream up to be offended by, I strongly urge you to remember that humans evolved to become vastly different from the rest of the animal kingdom in that we have opposable thumbs and the ability to reason. If you find that you are offended by the pornography on someone's DVD player in their car, pass them, slow down, OR JUST DON'T LOOK. This excersizes something known to most people in the civilized world as "common sense". If you were to touch the hot burner of a stove and your finger started hurting, would you leave it there or would you move it?

Sometimes I wonder.

Posted by: Brocephus | November 17, 2007 9:36 PM

DMV says 'GETOSAMA' license plates were mistake

9:36 PM EST, November 19, 2007

Arno Herwerth wasn't surprised when the state rejected his request for vanity license plates reading, "GUTOSAMA."

The retired New York City police sergeant realized the message might be a tad offensive.

So the Hauppauge man changed one letter earlier this month and resubmitted his application.

Within a week, he said Monday, he received plates with his new message: "GETOSAMA." He wanted to put the plates on his hand-painted, red-white-and-blue Ford Aerostar to show his support for United States troops searching for Osama bin Laden.

"I am frustrated that he's still alive and still out there," Herwerth said.

But now Herwerth has a new frustration: State motor vehicle officials nixed the license, saying it violates a law governing the content of personalized plates.

The state wants him to turn in the plates as soon as possible.

"I couldn't believe it," Herwerth said. "I thought it was horrendous."

Herwerth called the DMV a few weeks ago to complain that he had not received a registration document with his new license plates.

That's when a DMV employee told him "GETOSAMA" did not pass muster with the unit that approves vanity plate requests.

"He could not believe I got these plates," Herwerth said. "I said, 'Your guy sent them to me.'"

Ken Brown, a DMV spokesman, acknowledged the error but said Herwerth's request violated Section 16.5(e) of the motor vehicle code, which prohibits vanity plates that are "obscene, lewd, lascivious, derogatory to a particular ethnic group or patently offensive."

"We believe the plate set was inappropriate," Brown said. "The plate set was sent out in error."

Herwerth hopes officials reconsider.

"It's not lewd. It's not about anybody's ethnicity. It's not patently offensive to anybody," he said. "The plate simply says, Get him. That's it."

Brown said there is a penalty for not returning the plates, though he could not say what it would be.

Herwerth said he is challenging the decision, but would not risk having his registration suspended.

"I'm trying to get them to change their minds," he said. "I'd really rather not send them back."

Copyright © 2007, Newsday Inc.

Posted by: From NY... | November 19, 2007 9:50 PM

The Best plate I've ever seen is the guy who has 66SUCKS. Yep, spelled out. I figure he got past the censors because we all agree.

Posted by: Commuter | November 21, 2007 11:15 AM

I applied for a tag with XIPHOS and were turned down. The ignorant DMV probably didn't knot that a XIPHOS is a double bladed sword used in antiquity by the Trojans - what's the harm in that. Just proves that Alabama officials are under educated - the good ole boy christian ignorance is alive and well here.

Posted by: Alabama redneck | January 11, 2008 11:04 PM

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