Gov. Josh Shapiro has a new slogan for how he wants to run Pennsylvania — and it’s not fit for kids’ ears.
“We’ve got a GSD attitude in the Shapiro administration that means we focus on getting, you know, stuff done,” he told a news conference Monday with local officials at the Johnstown YMCA. “There’s children here, so we’ll just say ‘stuff.’”
That was the G-rated version of the line he’s been delivering in recent months. Occasionally, Shapiro just comes out and says it: “Get s—— done.”
The phrase has become the governing philosophy and brand of Shapiro, a freshman governor considered a rising star in the Democratic Party and among a handful of governors who are building their national profiles and positioning themselves for a 2028 run for the White House.
The S-word was part of comedian George Carlin ’s “The Seven Words You Can Never Say On TV” routine that got him arrested at a show in Milwaukee in 1972 and led to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 1978 upholding the government’s authority to sanction radio stations for broadcasting offensive language.
He has since hauled out the phrase during a few other speeches, usually substituting “stuff.” He is using the initials “GSD” to title his latest statewide media tour and on his website to tout his accomplishments. His social media team also has used the phrase online in videos.
Shapiro isn’t the kind of norm-breaking politician who might be expected to cuss in public.
The 50-year-old son of a physician and former state lawmaker, county commissioner and state attorney general is generally considered a relatively buttoned-down politician who carefully controls his messaging. Neither is he known for casually cussing in private.
Shapiro has long held the philosophy that government should get stuff done for people, and the saying was used frequently between campaign staff and Shapiro in the 2022 campaign, his press secretary, Manuel Bonder, said.
Neither the campaign nor the governor’s office have workshopped the slogan or focus-grouped it to see what sort of public reception it might get, Bonder said.
“It’s something that’s representative of how the governor feels about governing and leading and trying to make government work more efficiently and getting things done for people,” Bonder said. “It’s something that is based off of that philosophy.”
Regardless, the saying has prompted some eye rolls from the insiders who hear it the most.
“When I first heard it, I thought it was unseemly for a governor, but I guess I’m getting used to it,” said state Rep. Russ Diamond, R-Lebanon. “I still cringe. You just don’t hear that from a public official too often. Are we lowering the bar now? I guess that bar can be lowered.”
It’s also evinced grumbling that Shapiro is taking credit for stuff that lawmakers had labored over long before he took office a year ago.
“With all due respect governor, we got this s(asterisk)(asterisk)t done before your tenure,” state Sen, Kristin Phillips-Hill, R-York, wrote in response to a post by Shapiro on X, formerly known as Twitter.
The saying is not necessarily original.
In 2012, then-California Gov. Jerry Brown abruptly used the expression during a news conference declaring his support for a multibillion-dollar water project.
Swearing by politicians also isn’t necessarily new, although it is increasingly breaking free from taboos.
It began picking up in earnest some seven or eight years ago, likely coinciding with the growing use of social media that let academics better measure the use of language, said Benjamin Bergen, a professor of cognitive science at the University of California-San Diego who studies language, including profanity.
Donald Trump — labeled the “profanity president” in a 2019 New York Times headline for his use of obscenities during speeches or rallies — had a lot to do with breaking down the staid ways in which politicians communicate, said Jennifer Mercieca, a professor of communication and journalism at Texas A&M who studies political rhetoric.
Still, Mercieca couldn’t think of another politician who had adopted a slogan with a swear word.
“It’s probably the new normal now to expect that politicians post-Trump are going to be more freewheeling under the guise of authenticity and say things they think would be said in a way that people would say themselves,” Mercieca said.
One of Shapiro’s fellow Pennsylvania Democrats, U.S. Sen. John Fetterman, cussed routinely on social media while on his way to winning the Senate seat in 2022. Still, Fetterman — known for his blunt and irreverent talk — generally confined his profanities to his writings on social media when describing his disdain for, say, Pennsylvania’s relatively low minimum wage.
There is some academic research on the effects of politicians swearing.
It shows that, in general, people judge politicians who swear the way they judge anyone else who swears, Bergen said. It largely hinges on the appropriateness of the context, he said.
“On the positive side, people tend to judge politicians who swear as being more authentic or truthful,” Bergen said. “On the negative side, they tend to judge them as being more out of control, less aware of or conforming to social norms.”
In any case, attitudes toward the S-word have changed in the last few decades, and it has lost much of its punch as a cuss word, Bergen said.
The word may be taboo with, say, older adults, but Bergen asks his freshmen class every year to rank cuss words, and “s——” barely registers anymore.
“It’s as offensive as ‘loser,’” Bergen said.