Politics
Politics

Criticism of Fmr. Sen. Alan Simpson for Saying "Tits" Off Base

| by Reason Foundation

By Jacob Sullum

 

The New York Daily News reports that former Sen. Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.), co-chairman of President Obama's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, has "outraged feminists, Social Security recipients, and many liberal Democrats" by likening Social Security to "a milk cow with 310 million tits."

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), who I'm guessing did not do too well on the verbal section of the SAT, called the analogy "beyond comprehension" and demanded Simpson's removal from the commission. Simpson apologized immediately, but it's not exactly clear what his offense was.

The mention of outraged feminists suggests that Simpson stands accused of sexist vulgarity. I have to admit that I was shocked the first time I saw my mother use tit in a Scrabble game, but I was about 12 at the time, and she explained that the word is a perfectly acceptable variation of teat.

Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary backs her up, saying tit is deemed "vulgar" only when it refers to a woman's breast. The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary likewise lists "teat" as the first definition for tit, although it notes that the usage is "now obscure" except in certain dialects (such as Alan Simpson's, evidently).

So even by the arbitrary standards that make certain words unacceptable in polite company, in  family newspapers, and on broadcast television between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m (though that last rule may be a thing of of the past), Simpson need not apologize for his use of tit. Objecting to it is not quite as dumb as thinking that niggardly is racist, but it's close.The Daily News perpetuates the misconception that tit is always and everywhere dirty by rendering it "t-ts" in Simpson's quote. This is like writing "t-t for tat" or calling a bird a "t-tmouse."

If the "feminists" (and the Daily News) are simply misinformed, one suspects that the "liberal Democrats" and "Social Security recipients" (i.e., professional defenders of the entitlement status quo) are both misinformed and upset about Simpson's implication that Social Security is a welfare program—not because that's not true but because they prefer to pretend it's a pension system. Simpson's real sin, in other words, was drawing a comparison that was a little too apt for comfort.