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Thinking pop culture

A lipstick by any other name

Lunch with one of my PhD students. Not a formal supervision meeting so we got to spend an hour on topics of true gravitas.

High-end mascaras vs the cheap stuff.

If anyone ever uses eyeshadow without primer nowadays.

Whether the sting in Caudalie’s Beauty Elixir is attributable to the peppermint.

For the record, I’m not even being slightly facetious. Once upon a time it existed uneasily with my feminist politics. Nowadays I accept that I can hold more than one idea in my head.

Hello. My name is Lauren Rosewarne and I am disgustingly obsessed with cosmetics.

The lipstick at the center of a scandal.

And it is my preoccupation with the slick and shiny sweet-stuff that put on my radar the recent withdrawal of a Kat Von D lipstick from European cosmetics counters.

Shockingly, the ick-tastic colour wasn’t even the problem. The drama was all about the shade name.


The word - a slang-use portmanteau of celebrity and retard - was successfully criticised based on its tard tail.

I’m not going to defend the use of retard as a slur. Awful word, pick something less revolting, Idiot. Case closed.

But are retard and celebutard really so intertwined?

Bastard. Custard. Dastard. Leotard. Mustard. Petard. A dear friend is quite fond of fucktard.

I’m not being glib here. Does tard always have to be connected to retard? Is there no possibility that those four letters can have a life of their own?

A bizarre question? I’m not so sure. Queer and dyke - just for starters - are words with a life completely separate from their origins of derision.

Political correctness is often blamed on feminists. Solid argument or not, it is only feminists - and then only some - who advocate for linguistic shake-ups of the womyn/wombman kind.

(The man part, apparently, being too much of an advertisement for patriarchy).

Me, and I’m a purist. I like Scrabble too much to tolerate such perversions. That and I can - and constantly do - use woman and women without thinking about penises. Hell, I even use seminal without thinking about ejaculation!

So why such autopsying of celebutard? We constantly pervert the English language and forget all about provenance, why is this situation such the scandal?

Decimate, for example, is rarely used with its killing-one-in-ten dictionary-accuracy.

Incredible in popular parlance means something very different to its not believable origins.

And don’t get me started about sports-journalists’ obsession with pressurised.

So if we can happily bastardise English and give words new meaning through use, surely a word like celebutard can exist as separate from its derivation?

A complicated topic, granted. Hell, I still bristle when kids use “gay” to mean crap. And yet, should it really worry me? The kids using it are invariably not homophobes, and gay today means something quite different to its earlier happy-and-gay-the-Laxette-way origin anyhow. Words should be malleable.

Ah, but can I really hold such postmodern words-should-be-flexible stance in a world where where homosexuals and the differently-abled are still discriminated against with the very words I’m trying to rebrand?

Tricky question. That said, I’m not sure that a cosmetics store is the best arbiter of linguistic decorum either.

On Tuesday November 12 at 6pm Professor Rob Brooks and Dean Beck will be helping me launch my new book American Taboo at Readings in Carlton. Come along: there’ll be drinks, nibbles and I’d rather not be standing in the bookshop on my own. RSVP:

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