Santorum is a sexual neologism proposed by American humorist and sex-advice columnist Dan Savage in 2003 to "memorialize" then US Republican Senator Rick Santorum from Pennsylvania due to the controversy over his statements on homosexuality. Savage asked his readers to submit new definitions for the term; the winning definition was "that frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex."[1] The word became a successful Google bomb when Savage created a website for it, which unseated the Senator's official website as the top search result for his surname on the Google search engine.[2]


For more details on this topic, see Santorum controversy.

In an interview with the Associated Press published April 20, 2003, Senator Santorum grouped gay sex together with incest, polygamy, and zoophilia as deviant sexual behavior threatening society and the family.[3] The Senator further stated that he believed consenting adults do not have a constitutional right to privacy with respect to sexual acts.[4]


Dan Savage, who is openly gay and has had a history of political activism on behalf of gay rights, angrily addressed the Senator's comments in an op-ed published in the New York Times on April 25 titled "G.O.P. Hypocrisy". He linked Sen. Santorum's comments to the broader agenda of his party, saying "Mr. Santorum, who holds the No. 3 position in the Senate leadership, was only repeating what many Republicans have already said."[5] Savage next handled the matter in his sex-advice column, Savage Love on May 8, saying:

Striking down an insulting, discriminatory, unconstitutional law will not, as Santorum fears, open the doors to incest, adultery, bigamy, and bestiality. Straight people blew those doors off their hinges long, long ago.

Savage then proceeded to answer a letter about incest, which he opposes.[6]

Letters on the Santorum controversy began to arrive, "assuming correctly that the incident was right up Savage’s sex-politics alley", according to Liz Spikol of the Philadelphia Weekly.[7] One writer lamented, under the pseudonym "Sex and Rick Santorum," that the controversy seemed to already be forgotten, and urged Savage to organize a reader contest to determine a definition for the word "santorum". The reader reasoned that since Santorum had invited himself into the bedrooms of homosexuals, they should be "inclusive" and name a gay sex act for him. Savage agreed, saying

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.

Savage noted that the column had previously succeeded in creating a sexual slang word, "pegging", by getting the definition to begin appearing in dictionaries of sexual slang.[8] "I threw it out there to my readers," Savage later said.[7]

Savage published several definitions suggested by readers in subsequent columns. The winning definition was submitted by "Wipe Up That Santorum, Anal Pokers" in the May 29 column.[9] Votes were collected by e-mail, and the winning definition was announced June 12;[10] Savage concluded by asking for questions about santorum, and urged his readers to get the word out.[1] Savage has said that the winner was a "perfect fit", as there was no prior name for it. Santorum, he explained, is "unwelcome. If you’re doing [anal sex] right, it’s not gonna happen, and if it happens, it’s a bit of a killjoy, which is what it would be if the actual senator strolled into the room."[7]

Web activism

File:Santorum splash.JPG

The splash page of

Savage set up a website,[7] The site, also known as Spreading Santorum, gives the definition of the term "santorum," under which a brown, splattered stain appears on the otherwise-white page (see image). After this splash page, the site features letters to Savage tracking the dissemination of the term. The site includes a video of a person asking the Senator about the term at a town meeting-style forum and a letter that the Senator sent to a man in California outlining his objections to the "obscenity" of the website. Savage considered he had met his goal of "rubbing it in [the Senator's] nose".[7]

As of June 2008, the site was the top Google result for the search term "santorum" as the result of a Google bomb.[11]

Political impact

The Economist noted in January 2006 that "gay activists use [Santorum's] name to denote something indescribable in a family newspaper".[12][13] In April 2006, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the "disgusting" definition was "spreading like kudzu on the internet." The Inquirer described the Savage coinage and other references to the Senator in The Sopranos and Veronica Mars as illustrating Santorum's name's evolution into "cultural shorthand ... for social conservatism".[14] The regional gay newspaper Bay Windows said in August 2006 that Savage had "succeeded in turning [the Senator's name] into an oft-Googled slang term".[15] According to the Philadelphia Weekly, writing in October 2006, the term "gained real traction" and "found its way into salacious dictionaries—and books published on actual paper", with Savage admitting that he "worked pretty hard" to get it out there.[7]

Indeed, the Human Rights Campaign included the full definition in a reprint of an item from Gay City News. The article noted that Savage had donated $2,100 to the campaign of Santorum's challenger in the 2006 election, Bob Casey, but Casey had not accepted the donation.[16][17] According to the Scranton Times-Tribune, Casey returned the money after hearing of Savage's promulgated definition of santorum, saying that what Savage had done went "over the line" demarking political civility. Savage gave the money instead to an anti-Santorum political action committee.[18]

Subsequently, Casey won the election.[19] Although a California weekly suggested that the campaign's "ripples were felt strongly by the outgoing senator himself in the recent midterm elections",[20] and Mark Morford of the San Francisco Chronicle declared that "Dan Savage helped kill Rick Santorum",[21] Savage himself says "you can't really measure impact".[13]

In a celebratory column, though, Savage wrote:

While Santorum would have been defeated even without a filthy, lowercase definition of his last name floating around out there, having a name that can barely be mentioned in polite company anymore didn't help.... We helped to make Rick Santorum into a national laughingstock—with an invaluable assist from Rick Santorum, of course.[22]

Savage gleefully pointed to Kathryn Jean Lopez, conservative columnist and editor of the National Review Online, as an example of his success.[22][23] In her election day column, Lopez described the Senator as "the politician most successfully victimized by nasty Internet political tactics" and predicted that "some angry people will get the chance to celebrate ... I don’t mean people who disagree with him on a federal marriage amendment. I mean people who think it’s pretty funny that when you Google the senator’s name, you get a repulsive lower-case version of his last name."[24]

Recognition in media

The print journal Gay and Lesbian Humanist noted the contest in its Summer 2003 issue, but before a definition had been selected. At its annual meeting in January 2005, the American Dialect Society selected "santorum" as the Most Outrageous Word of the Year for 2004. Lexicographer Jesse Sheidlower later wrote in Slate magazine, "This year the strongest contender was santorum.... We dismissed one potential problem — that newspapers wouldn't print the term if it won — on the grounds that we shouldn't censor ourselves. And indeed... santorum did win, but many newspapers simply skipped this category in their coverage. So much for academic freedom."[25]

The word has appeared as a humorous aside in college newspapers[26] and even music reviews[27] The term's popularity as a political epithet has extended to bumper stickers and t-shirts.[7]

Tucson Weekly movie reviewer Jim Nintzel wrote in April 2006 that he introduced the word to Rob Corddry of The Daily Show, noting that "Despite his high-ranking position as a member of the media elite, Corddry wasn't aware of this important linguistic development.".[28] Subsequently the show referenced the term in its July 12, 2006 and December 11, 2006 episodes.[7] Google Current also covered the Google bombing of the term on July 15, 2006.[7][29]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Dan Savage. "Savage Love: Gas Huffer", The Stranger, June 12, 2003. Retrieved on 2006-12-19. 
  2. Carrie Budoff. "No thanks, Casey donor told: The campaign found sex columnist Dan Savage too hot to handle. His $2,100 check has been returned.", Philadelphia Inquirer, July 27, 2006. Retrieved on 2006-12-19. 
  3. Loughlin, Sean. "Santorum under fire for comments on homosexuality", CNN, 2003-04-22. Retrieved on 2007-10-02. 
  4. Associated Press. "Raw Data: Excerpts of Santorum's AP Interview", Fox News, 2003-04-22. Retrieved on 2007-10-02. 
  5. Savage, Dan (2003, April 25), “G.O.P. Hypocrisy”, The New York Times, <> 
  6. Dan Savage. "Savage Love: Family Ties", The Stranger, May 8, 2003. Retrieved on 2006-12-19. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 7.8 Liz Spikol. "Savage Politics", Philadelphia Weekly, October 4, 2006. Retrieved on 2006-12-19. 
  8. Dan Savage. "Savage Love: Bill, Ashton, Rick", The Stranger, May 15, 2003. Retrieved on 2006-12-19. 
  9. Dan Savage. "Savage Love: Do the Santorum", The Stranger, May 29, 2003. Retrieved on 2006-12-19. 
  10. Savage, Dan (2003-06-12). Gas Huffer. Savage Love. Retrieved on 2008-05-22.
  11. Santorum. Google Current (July 15, 2006). Retrieved on 2006-12-19. Current discusses the success of the "santorum" Google bomb.
  12. "The political year: Will lightning strike the Republicans?", The Economist, January 5, 2006. Retrieved on 2006-12-19. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 Tasha Robinson. "Interview: Dan Savage", The Onion AV Club, February 8, 2006. Retrieved on 2006-12-19. 
  14. Thomas Fitzgerald. "What's in a name? Simply 'Santorum' says plenty", The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 2006. Retrieved on 2006-12-19.  (No specific date is provided in source.)
  15. "So they say", Bay Windows, August 10, 2006. Retrieved on 2006-12-19. 
  16. CATHERINE LUCEY. "Sex-columnist Savage goes live on Santorum", Philadelphia Daily News, October 11, 2006. Retrieved on 2006-12-19. "After all, it was his no-holds-barred column that spawned the infamous sex term named after Sen. Rick Santorum. (No, really, we can't print it. Just look it up on Google.) In fact, Savage's raunchy reputation meant that Santorum's opponent, Bob Casey Jr., refused a $2,100 donation that the Seattle-based writer tried to give to his campaign earlier this year." 
  17. Andy Humm. "Rick Santorum’s Flip Flop on Bias", Gay City News, August 9, 2006. Retrieved on 2006-12-19.  Reprinted by the Human Rights Campaign.
  18. Borys Krawczeniuk. "Casey: Donor "over the line"", Scranton Times-Tribune, August 1, 2006. Retrieved on 2006-12-19. 
  19. Borys Krawczeniuk. "Casey dominated like no one before", Scranton Times-Tribune, November 9, 2006. Retrieved on 2006-12-19.  Note: embedded sound.
  20. Saundra Sorensen. "Html & the new journalism: How the blog flourished in 2006", Ventura County Reporter, December 28 2006. Retrieved on 2007-03-12. 
  21. Mark Morford. "Thoughts to keep you warm when it's cold", San Francisco Chronicle, January 17 2007. Retrieved on 2007-03-12. 
  22. 22.0 22.1 Dan Savage. "Make a Joyful Noise", The Stranger, November 16 2006. Retrieved on 2007-03-12. 
  23. "Savage Love" November 14, 'Reader Comments on Rick Santorum's Election Defeat'
  24. Kathryn Jean Lopez. "The Poll that Matters: Will Pennsylvania voters defy conventional wisdom and reelect Santorum?", The National Review, November 7 2006. Retrieved on 2007-03-12. 
  25. Jesse Sheidlower. "Linguists Gone Wild! Why "wardrobe malfunction" wasn't the word of the year.", January 11, 2005. Retrieved on 2006-12-19. 
  26. Gauntlet Staff. "Frosh Supplement 2003: Glossary", University of Calgary Gauntlet, September 4, 2003. Retrieved on 2006-12-19.  "Sex: The most effective method of study avoidance. Common side effect, santorum."
  27. "Disc of the week: Antony and the Johnsons, I Am a Bird Now", Montreal Mirror, February 10–16, 2005. Retrieved on 2006-12-19. Archived from the original on 2005-02-11.  "Boy George, Rufus Wainwright, Lou Reed and Devendra Banhart lend extra sparkle to this graceful glitter-opera, which climaxes with "Fistfull of Love," a glorious slip 'n' slide of a soul song that's well worth the Santorum stain."
  28. Jim Nintzel. "Trigger Happy: Rob Corddry stars in the 'Schindler's List' of paintball movies", Tucson Weekly, April 20, 2006. Retrieved on 2006-12-19.  The Daily Show correspondent and I were talking on the phone the other day and--as it so often does--the subject of santorum came up. As regular Weekly readers know, santorum was the name given to "the frothy mix of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the byproduct of anal sex" by readers of the nationally syndicated Savage Love column to honor U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.
  29. Santorum. Google Current (July 15, 2006). Retrieved on 2006-12-19. Current declined to cite the definition themselves.

External links

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