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Cat in the Stax: Boaty McBoatface

By Ethan Shea

"RRS Sir David Attenborough"

Image: The Natural Environment Research Council

You may have heard of the saying “jump the shark.” The phrase is used to describe a form of entertainment that starts incorporating gimmicky and ridiculous events, indicating a decline in quality.

This idiom was coined in 1985 as a response to Fonzie, in a 1977 episode of Happy Days, jumping over a shark while on water-skis. A far-fetched event that indicated a drop in the show’s quality.

This sort of pop culture generated phrase only seems to come around every once in a while, but they’re still being coined today. One of my favorites is the phenomenon of “McBoatfacing.”

McBoatfacing is defined as making the mistake of letting the internet or general public decide something. This phrase derived from a 2016 online contest the British government hosted to name a research boat.

The name received 124,109 votes, handily winning the competition. It was described as a homage to Hooty McOwlface, an owl named through similar circumstances in 2012 which became a popular internet meme.

"2021 Buschy McBusch Race 400 Logo"

Image: NASCAR

Similar naming contests have been McBoatfaced since, such as the naming of a horse in Sydney, Australia (Horsey McHorseface), a Busch Beer sponsored NASCAR race (2021 Buschy McBusch Race 400), and a SpaceX satellite terminal (Dishy McFlatface).

Unfortunately, despite winning the vote, the research vessel was not named Boaty McBoatface. Rather, the boat is now known as the RRS Sir David Attenborough. To appease the masses, one of the boat’s deployable submersibles was named Boaty McBoatface.

Here at Falvey, we love hearing about the ways in which language continues to evolve during the age of the internet. Who knows what the next big turn of phrase will be?

If you’re looking to spice up your vocabulary, check out our collection of thesauruses in the stacks!


Headshot of Ethan SheaEthan Shea is a second-year graduate student in the English Department and Graduate Assistant at Falvey Library.


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Last Modified: April 12, 2023

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