Campaign for "santorum" neologism

In response to comments by U.S. Senator Rick Santorum criticized as anti-gay by gay rights groups[1] and some politicians,[2] sex columnist and gay rights activist Dan Savage began a campaign in 2003 to associate Santorum's surname with a sexual innuendo.[3] Savage's effort led to the creation of a derogatory word association.

In a segment of an April 2003 interview with the Associated Press discussing a recent United States Supreme Court decision striking down an anti-sodomy law, Santorum argued that consenting adults do not have a constitutional right to privacy, and that the recent court decision effectively was legalizing bestiality, polygamy, adultery, and sodomy, all of which he believed undermined society and the family. Savage subsequently asked his readers to coin a definition for "santorum" which would offend the Senator. He announced the winner as "the frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex." He created a web site to promote this definition, which became a prominent search result for Santorum's name on several search engines. He offered in 2010 to take the website down if Santorum donated US$5 million to Freedom to Marry, a group advocating legal recognition of same-sex marriages.

In June 2011 Santorum said of the situation that "There are foul people out there who do horrible things. It's unfortunate some people thought it would be a big joke to make fun of my name. That comes with the territory." In September 2011 he asked Google to remove the definition from its search engine index. Google refused, claiming that it would compromise the integrity of its search results.


Santorum interview

In a segment of an interview with the Associated Press on April 7, 2003, Santorum said there is a relationship between the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal and liberalism and relativism. He argued that moral relativism involves accepting any adult consensual behavior in the privacy of people's homes, even if the behavior might otherwise be thought deviant. Santorum believes this attitude leads to an unhealthy culture.[4]

He said that, while he had no problem with homosexuality, he did have a problem with homosexual acts: "As I would with acts of other, what I would consider to be, acts outside of traditional heterosexual relationships. And that includes a variety of different acts, not just homosexual." He continued: "We have laws in states, like the one at the Supreme Court right now, that has sodomy laws and they were there for a purpose. Because, again, I would argue, they undermine the basic tenets of our society and the family. And if the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything. Does that undermine the fabric of our society? I would argue yes, it does."[4]

He said he was arguing against any relationship other than marriage between a man and a woman, the basis in his view of a stable society: "That's not to pick on homosexuality. It's not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be."[4] The interview triggered an angry reaction from gay rights activists and some politicians.[2] A spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee described the views as divisive and reckless[5] while conservative activists saw them as a "principled opposition to same-sex marriage."[2]

Campaign by Dan Savage

Dan Savage

American sex-advice columnist Dan Savage responded to Santorum's comments in an op-ed in The New York Times on April 25, 2003, arguing that they amounted to an overt Republican appeal to homophobic voters.[6] A reader of his column, "Savage Love", suggested he organize a contest to create a definition for "santorum." Savage had previously sought to coin several sexual neologisms, including "pegging." He wrote: "There's no better way to memorialize the Santorum scandal than by attaching his name to a sex act that would make his big, white teeth fall out of his big, empty head."[7][8]

He said on May 29 that he had received 3,000 suggestions, and posted several for readers to choose from. On June 12 he announced the winner as "that frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex."[2][9] He set up a website, Spreading Santorum, to spread the definition,[2] featuring the term over a brown splattered stain on an otherwise-white page. Savage also set up another website that displays the same content in a whole-page frameset. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in July 2006 that the site appeared at the top of a Google search for Santorum's name. When asked whether he was concerned about the effect on Santorum's children, Savage responded that gays and lesbians have children too, yet their children are required to listen to gay relationships being compared to incest and bestiality. He said the people worried about Santorum's children were "left-leaning trolls": "The only people who come at me wringing their hands about Santorum's children are idiot lefties who don't get how serious the right is about destroying us."[10]

Savage offered in May 2010 to remove the site if Santorum donated $5 million to Freedom to Marry, an advocacy group for same-sex marriage.[11] In August 2011, the term was still the top result for Santorum's name on several search engines, including Google, Bing, and Yahoo.[11][12][13]

In February 2011, Savage said he would resume his campaign.[14] In a 2011 Funny or Die video, Savage proposed to redefine Santorum's first name if Santorum did not stop criticizing homosexuality.[3][15] Later, in the August 17, 2011, edition of his Savage Love column, a reader suggested a redefinition in response to the video: "rick (v): to remove santorum orally. ("He was so grateful for the lay that he ricked his partner.") In the column Savage said: "Santorum hasn't laid off the gay bashing, as it's all he's got, so it looks like I'm going to have to go ahead and redefine his first name, too." He gave his apologies to "Rick Dees, Rick Fox, Ricki Lake, and all the other innocent Ricks out there" for the impact of this new definition, and then adopted the suggested redefinition.[16]

Reception and political impact

The American Dialect Society chose "santorum" as the winner in its "Most Outrageous" category in the society's 2004 "Word of the Year" event,[17] as a result of which several newspapers reportedly omitted that category from their coverage of the announcement.[18] Many observers characterized the definition as "obscene", "unfit to print" or "vulgar."[19]

Google Current and Philadelphia Weekly's columnist Liz Spikol reported in 2006 that the word had inspired punk rock and blues songs, and it began appearing on bumper stickers and t-shirts.[20] Jon Stewart mentioned it on The Daily Show more than once; his reference to it in May 2011 caused the word to be one of the most queried search terms on Google the following day.[21] Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report also referred to it on more than one occasion.[22]

"An example of deliberate coining is the word 'santorum'... In point of fact, the term is the child of a one-man campaign by syndicated sex columnist Dan Savage to place the term in wide usage. From its appearance in print and especially on the Internet, one would assume, incorrectly, that the term has gained wide usage."
The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, 2006

Savage's campaign was widely discussed in the media, but the word itself did not gain wide acceptance, according to The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English in 2006.[23] The 2007 update of this work, The Concise New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, does not contain an entry for "santorum."[24]

Stephanie Mencimer wrote in Mother Jones in 2010 that several commentators said the campaign had contributed to Santorum's 2006 defeat by Bob Casey.[11] Savage tried to contribute $2,100 to Casey's campaign, but Casey's spokesman said in July 2006 that the check had been returned because of Savage's "vulgar" remarks in his column and on the santorum website.[25] When he heard Santorum might run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012, Savage said he would "have to sic [his] flying monkeys on him"—i.e. encourage bloggers to start linking to his website again.[11]

Noam Cohen of the New York Times describes this situation as a hijacking of online identity. He questions whether automatic search algorithms should be entirely devoid of human discretion.[26]

Santorum's reaction

Santorum discussed the issue in a February 2011 interview with Roll Call: "It's one guy. You know who it is. The Internet allows for this type of vulgarity to circulate. It's unfortunate that we have someone who obviously has some issues. But he has an opportunity to speak."[27] After announcing he might stand for the 2012 presidential nomination, he told The Daily Caller in April 2011 that he had not hired anyone to help move Savage's website lower in search results, but hoped his possible run for president would shift his own site to the top organically.[28] In a June 2011 interview, Santorum said, "There are foul people out there who do horrible things. It's unfortunate some people thought it would be a big joke to make fun of my name. That comes with the territory."[29] Santorum says that news coverage of this matter would be very different if he were liberal instead of conservative: "the Mainstream Media would hit the roof – and rightly so!"[30]


The New York Times reported in 2004 that people had tried to use Google bombs to link the names of several American politicians to what it called unprintable phrases, including George W. Bush, Hillary Clinton, and Rick Santorum.[31] Bloggers linking to Spreading Santorum caused it to rise in Google's rankings.[11]

Michael Fertik of ReputationDefender, a company that helps people influence their Web presence, described the search engine issue as "devastating" and said it was "one of the more creative and salient Google issues" he had ever seen. Mark Skidmore of Blue State Digital said Santorum will find it difficult to shift Savage's site, because Savage has over 13,000 inbound links against 5,000 for Santorum's own site.[11] Chris Wilson in Slate described the situation as a "classic 'Google bomb'."[32]

Santorum's request that Google intervene

In June 2011 when asked whether Google should step in to prevent the definition appearing so prominently under searches for his name, he said they should intervene only if they would normally do so in this kind of circumstance.[13] In September 2011 Santorum asked Google to intervene by altering the indexing of the content. Santorum stated, "If you're a responsible business, you don't... allow that type of filth to be purveyed through [your] website..."[33] In response to Santorum's request, a Google spokesperson asserted that Google does not "remove content from our search results, except in very limited cases such as illegal content and violations of our webmaster guidelines."[33]

According to Talking Points Memo (TPM), "Google did crack down" on google-bombing in the past.[34][35] In an interview with TPM, search engine expert Danny Sullivan stated that Santorum mischaracterized the campaign as a Google Bomb, when it was actually a successful redefinition of Santorum's name.[34] Sullivan argued that, in a Google bomb, pranksters persuade Google's algorithm to send the wrong results for a certain term (e.g., when pranksters caused the search term "miserable failure" to point to George W. Bush's website). In Santorum's case, on the other hand, the term "santorum" still points to a web page about a "santorum" — which happens to be Savage's neologism instead of the Senator from Pennsylvania. Sullivan concluded that, "for [Senator Santorum] to say Google could get rid of it would be like him saying, 'I don't like the word unicorn and I think that that definition should go away.'"[34]

Sources that characterize the neologism campaign as "Google bombing", as well as sources that do not characterize it that way, describe the neologism campaign as a prank.[36][37] One commenter stated that search engines Bing and Yahoo have been presenting the offending links second behind Santorum's web site,[38][39] but another said that either this was not the case or that Yahoo! presented Santorum's paid advertisement first.[40]


  1. ^ "Santorum defends comments on homosexuality". CNN. April 23, 2003. Retrieved March 13, 2008. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Brewer, Paul Ryan. Value War: Public Opinion and the Politics of Gay Rights. Rowman & Littlefield, 2008, pp. 67–68, 86, footnote 54.
  3. ^ a b Katla McGlynn. Dan Savage Has A New Name For Rick Santorum. The Huffington Post, July 27, 2011
  4. ^ a b c "Excerpt from Santorum interview", USA Today, April 23, 2003.
  5. ^ Loughlin, Sean. "Santorum under fire for comments on homosexuality", CNN, April 22, 2003.
  6. ^ Savage, Dan. "G.O.P. Hypocrisy", The New York Times, April 25, 2003.
  7. ^ Dwyer, Devin. "Rick Santorum’s ‘Google Problem’ Resurfaces with Jon Stewart Plug", ABC News ((May 10, 2011).
  8. ^ Heckman, Meg (June 12, 2011). "Rick Santorum vs. the internet". The Concord Monitor (Concord, NH). Retrieved June 22, 2011. "The less vulgar include..." 
  9. ^ For some of the other suggestions, see Savage, Dan. "Do the Santorum", The Stranger, May 29, 2003.
    • For the winner, see Savage, Dan. "Gas Huffer", The Stranger, June 12, 2003.
  10. ^ Spikol, Liz. "Savage Politics", Philadelphia Weekly, October 4, 2006.
  11. ^ a b c d e f Mencimer, Stephanie. "Rick Santorum's Anal Sex Problem", Mother Jones, September/October 2010.
  12. ^ Amira, Dan. "Rick Santorum Has Come to Terms With His Google Problem", New York Magazine, February 16, 2011.
  13. ^ a b Interview with Rick Santorum", The Daily Rundown, MSNBC, June 9, 2011.
  14. ^ Steve Peoples (February 23, 2011). "Dan Savage Vows to Revive ‘Santorum’ Campaign". Roll Call. 
  15. ^ Chris Rovzar. Dan Savage Threatens to Re-Define Rick Santorum’s First Name, Too. New York magazine, July 28, 2011
  16. ^ Dan Savage. "Savage Love". August 17, 2011. 
  17. ^ "Most Outrageous", American Dialect Society, January 7, 2005, p. 2.
  18. ^ Sheidlower, Jesse. "Linguists Gone Wild! Why "wardrobe malfunction" wasn't the word of the year", Slate, January 11, 2005.
  19. ^ Joshua Kors (May 8, 2011). "Q&A With Dan Savage: On Obama, Fox News' Shepard Smith and Success of 'It Gets Better' Project". Huffington Post. Retrieved July 26, 2011. 
  20. ^ "Santorum", Google Current, July 15, 2006.
    • For the bumper stickers and t-shirts, see Spikol, Liz. "Savage Politics", Philadelphia Weekly, October 4, 2006.
  21. ^ Stewart, Jon. "Indecision 2006: No-Mentum", The Daily Show, July 12, 2006.
  22. ^ Colbert, Stephen. "Rick Santorum Internet Search", The Colbert Report, February 21, 2011.
  23. ^ The New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English. Routledge, 2006, pp. x–xi: "An example of deliberate coining is the word 'santorum', purported to mean 'a frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex'. In point of fact, the term is the child of a one-man campaign by syndicated sex columnist Dan Savage to place the term in wide usage. From its appearance in print and especially on the Internet, one would assume, incorrectly, that the term has gained wide usage."
  24. ^ Eric Partridge; Tom Dalzell; Terry Victor (2007). The concise new Partridge dictionary of slang and unconventional English. Routledge. ISBN 9780415212595. 
  25. ^ Budoff, Carrie. Philadelphia Inquirer,"No thanks, Casey donor told", July 27, 2006.
  26. ^ Cohen, Noam. "Dealing With an Identity Hijacked on the Online Highway", New York Times (September 25, 2011).
  27. ^ Peoples, Steve. "Santorum Talks About Longtime Google Problem", Roll Call, February 16, 2011.
  28. ^ Moody, Chris. "Santorum says he has no plans to fix his 'Google problem'", The Daily Caller, April 28, 2011.
  29. ^ David Edwards (June 9, 2011). "Santorum hopes Google will do something about ‘filth on the Internet’". Raw Story. Retrieved July 24, 2011. 
  30. ^ Dan Savage and His Obscene Attack, Accessed September 30, 2011.
  31. ^ McNichol, Tom. "Your Message Here", The New York Times, January 22, 2004.
  32. ^ Chris Wilson, "Lube Job: Should Google associate Rick Santorum's name with anal sex?", Slate, July 1, 2011. Accessed August 1, 2011.
  33. ^ a b Burns, Alexander (20 September 2011). "Rick Santorum contacted Google, says company spreads 'filth'". Politico. Retrieved 21 September 2011. 
  34. ^ a b c McMorris-Santoro, Evan. "Search Engine Expert: Rick Santorum’s New Crusade Against Google Is Total Nonsense", Talking Points Memo (September 20, 2011).
  35. ^ Biagi, Shirley. Media Impact: An Introduction to Mass Media, page 273 (Cengage Learning, 2011). Describes TPM.
  36. ^ Rolph, Amy. "Rick Santorum wants Google to take down 'frothy mix' definition", Seattle Post Intelligencer (September 22, 2011).
  37. ^ Zorn, Eric. "Poor Rick S@ntorum", Chicago Tribune (September 21, 2011).
  38. ^ Nance, Penny Young (2011 [last update]). "Google's Hypocritical Anti-Bully Pulpit". Retrieved 27 September 2011. 
  39. ^ Albanesius, Chloe. "Santorum's 'Google Problem' Persists, Should Link Be Removed?, PC Magazine (September 26, 2011)
  40. ^ Atkins, Dante (26 September 2011). "Anti-gay group attacks Google with frothy mix of lies for Rick Santorum". Daily Kos. Retrieved 27 September 2011. 

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