Vietnam Graffiti Project (X sucks, etc.)

Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at RCI.RUTGERS.EDU
Tue Oct 25 17:42:52 UTC 2005

On alt.usage.english, Richard Maurer reports on two interesting tidbits
involving the Vietnam-era popularization of "X sucks". First, there's some
evidence that the slogan "Army sucks" was given a boost by an underground
radio DJ in Vietnam who used the pseudonym "Dave Rabbit":

"Music in Vietnam" (from "Through the Soldiers' Ears: What Americans
Fighting in Vietnam Heard and Its Effects", senior thesis by Chris Sabis)

Despite the short duration of most of these stations, some unauthorized
disc jockey’s gained much notoriety in Vietnam. One such individual called
himself "Dave Rabbit." Dave Rabbit was a disc jockey for an unauthorized
radio station in Saigon. On his show, Dave Rabbit would play acid rock,
announce the opening of new brothels in the city, and use aphorisms like
"Army sucks" and "Fuck it before it fucks you."
[Citing: Cleveland, Les. _Dark Laughter: War in Song and Popular Culture_.
Westport: Praeger Publishers, 1994.]

There are clips of Dave Rabbit's shows on <>, but
the site appears to be down at the moment.

Also, there's evidence that as early as 1969 the putative vulgarity of "X
sucks" was already subject to debate along generational lines:

"Hampton [New Hampshire]: A Century of Town and Beach, 1888-1988"
by Peter Evans Randall

In 1969, a Winnacunnet High School teacher named James C. Pechewlys, who
taught a course called "Problems of Democracy," decided to protest the
Vietnam war in his own way. He thereupon attached to the trunk of his car
a sign that read "Vietnam Sucks," a sentiment easily visible on his car in
the school parking lot. Someone also tried to set the car afire, an
incident that also drew wide publicity to his sign.
Regarding whether or not the words on the sign were obscene -- as some
thought -- Pechewlys countered that obscenity was in the eyes of the
beholder; the word sucks was in wide use among younger people to indicate
something despised or despicable. Be that as it may, the sign set off an
uproar that led to a vote by the Winnacunnet High School Board, on August
18, 1969, to dismiss Pechewlys from his teaching post.

--Ben Zimmer

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