If you finished Monday's crossword puzzle in the New York Times, your answer for 43 Down, clued as "Scoundrel," was SCUMBAG. Most puzzlers, penciling in these letters, felt nothing more than mild satisfaction. But a small number knew enough to be outraged.
Allan Siegal, the assistant managing editor who is the Times' arbiter of usage and style, told me "we got dozens of angry messages from readers, as well as complaints from colleagues on the staff."* Bloggers expressed their surprise and dismay. Why were people so upset?
The original meaning of scumbag is "condom." The Oxford English Dictionary dates the term to 1967, with 1971 as the first example of the "despicable person" sense, but current research has pushed the dates back to 1935 (based on the still earlier scum, "semen," and bag, "a condom") and 1950 respectively.