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From GOOSPU to H8YOU (and more): Rejected Idaho vanity plates bounced for sex, profanity, politics and drugs

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Editor’s note: This article contains suggestive and mature language. The whole list of rejected plates is embedded at the bottom of the article. The list contains vanity plates that were rejected because they were profane, vulgar and offensive. Reader discretion is advised.

An Idahoan submitted an application for a personalized license plate, saying in their comments “I have 7 kids and they each picked a letter or number to go on the plate.” Their choices evidently spelled “zero” followed by a variation of a four-letter word.

Agents saw right through it. In their reason for rejection, they wrote that the plate was clearly an “obscenity.”

When asked if she was ever surprised by what people submit, Acting DMV Administrator Lisa McClellan laughed.

“That’s a trick question, right?” McClellan said. “Every day, something new comes through, and we just do the best we can to keep up on what’s out there in the world.”

At the end of the day, many Idaho license plate applications reveal something about who we are as Idahoans and the current political climate.

But some rejected plates are audacious — for example, one applicant submitted “U DAH0” with the justification, “Honoring my uncles Dave, Alan, Howard and Omar.”

That application is one of 256 obtained by the Idaho Press via a public records request — and for the first time, the Idaho Press also obtained the comments by the applicants and the reasons for rejection.

The application on the department’s website carries a warning:

“Personalized plates, in any language, may not carry a sexual term that is vulgar, obscene, or in poor taste, and may not consist of a term that is considered to be one of obscenity, contempt, prejudice, hostility, insult, racial degradation, ethnic degradation, profanity, or vulgarity,” the application said.

But people still tried to get plates like that through, often with flimsy attempts to explain why their application requested words like “8008IES.” (Apparently, 80 was the birth year of a family friend who died in ‘08, and his name was Ian Edward Smith.)

The system automatically checks the text of the plate against a database. If it makes it past this step, an agent will look at the application and do another review, McClellan said. Agents use sources like Urban Dictionary, The Online Slang Dictionary, an acronym dictionary, and Google.

Of the 256 rejected, 36% had sexual content or bodily parts or functions, 29% had something profane, 13% had something political (usually involving the F word), and eight percent included either the number 69 or the number 420. Just five percent included drug or violence references, including someone who requested “KUSHH” and said it was their dog’s name. One was a mistake, and one didn’t appear to fit into the other categories.

Identity, belonging

The plates raise the question: Why do human beings try to put irreverent and sometimes political messages on our cars? The answer has to do with identity and belonging.

“People like to personalize their cars. It’s a huge investment, and it’s very much part of ‘this is my identity,’” said Scott Draper, College of Idaho associate professor of sociology. “It’s the good feelings of one’s own identity, connected with their experiences with their own people, in contrast with who they’re not.”

So, for example, if someone attends a political rally, they might feel a sense of social solidarity with others who attend. So the phrase “Let’s Go Brandon,” which initially became known as a euphemism for a phrase including an expletive and the name of the president, can remind someone of those feelings. This phrase was included six times in the applications.

“These symbols are reminders of our people,” Draper said. “You might imagine why you want to put them on your car.”

An important part of this is that people can tend to get their identity from feeling like their group is different from others. A liberal Idaho driver may see a conservative message and want to counter it with their own, because it would give them good feelings of solidarity with their own people.

“It’s really all about belonging,” Draper said.

The plates are part of how people want others to see them, Draper added. Plus, people want others to see the things they care about. For example, one of the rejected plates said “EFGAS,” a clear message about the benefits of electric vehicles.

“There’s a purpose here, which is to spread the word about the values and the policies that you believe in and that you care about,” Draper said.

Problematic language

However, almost 8% included hateful, mean, discriminatory or insulting language.

Vanity plates can be controversial — some have written articles and blog posts expressing their distaste for vanity plates.

For example, one writer on the car-related news and opinion website Jalopnik complained that the whole point of license plate is that they’re meaningless.

“The whole fun part about a license plate is that it’s a random collection of letters and numbers. You have to memorize it, and that’s a pain, so you have to ascribe some meaning or rhythm to it,” Raphael Orlove wrote.

Someone with a vanity plate misses out on that bond, he wrote.

But officials stopped some genuinely controversial license plates from going through, including variations of ACAB (a derogatory saying against cops), Let’s Go Brandon, (expletive) Joe Biden and ban ATF (the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms).

As politics have become more polarized, people have been using more visual expressions in order to broadcast their views or as a protest, said Jaclyn Kettler, a political scientist with Boise State University.

Typically with cars, people use things like bumper stickers, which have long been popular with campaigns, she said.

It’s hard to tell what the license plate applicants were thinking or if they’re representative of the whole population. However, the messages they tried to broadcast align with current political trends.

“Our political views are extending into much more broadly than just how we vote or who we might donate to, but in how we engage more broadly in society,” Kettler said.

Political battleground

License plates have been a political battleground before.

In 2020, one of the Idaho House’s last votes was to kill a bill that would have created a specialty license plate with the slogan “Too Great for Hate” to benefit the Wassmuth Center’s Idaho Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial.

Legislators did not debate against the bill before it was killed, as previously reported. Earlier that session, the House approved a “Choose Life” specialty license plate.

In their applications for vanity plates, some Idahoans may have tried to use other specialty license plate designs to get away with inappropriate messages. A few applicants tried to get the plates “ITCHIN,” and “URN 1,” which would have been inappropriate on a Boise State plate which features a large blue B before the letters and numbers.

Idaho’s Transportation Department has stopped plates like “HELLYEA,” “G00SPU” and “H8PE0PL” from appearing on the road. And in some rejections, officials appeared to have hope for this great state.

“SHOWS HATE, PREJUDICE,” they wrote. “EVERYONE IS EQUAL IN IDAHO.”

To see the full list of plate names, click here.

Carolyn Komatsoulis - Idaho Press
Carolyn Komatsoulis - Idaho Presshttps://idahopress.com/
Carolyn Komatsoulis covers Meridian and Ada County for Idaho Press. Contact her at 208-465-8107 and follow her on Twitter @CKomatsoulis.

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