Signaling perversion: Senator David Walsh and the politics of euphemism and dysphemism

Clare Forstie*, Gary A Fine

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Discussions of sexual reputation typically involve hints and innuendos, as sexual behavior often cannot be explicitly addressed in public domains. In this article we explore the role of signaling in the creation of reputation, particularly when reputational claims may not be directly articulated. We describe sexual signals in their reach (who learns of the claim) and through their realm (the transparency of meanings). We focus on the publicity of and response to a dramatic sexuality scandal from the Second World War that alleged that a US senator frequented a gay brothel operated by Nazi spies. This scandal – like others involving hidden sexuality – depended on signaling through the discursive forms of euphemism and dysphemism, requiring bounded subcultural knowledge. Signaling relies on local knowledge, often sheltering the powerful by excluding broader publics. Although we focus on the Walsh case, similar dynamics operate in other scandals involving politicians, government officials, and public figures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)772-792
Number of pages21
Issue number7
StatePublished - Oct 1 2017


  • Euphemism/dysphemism
  • reputation
  • scandal
  • sexuality
  • signaling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Anthropology

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