Wednesday, April 16, 2008

T*at’s That?

Somebody at the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles vanity plate office needs to check up on their list of offensive four-letter words.

Veteran Miami-Dade prosecutor Abbe Rifkin, stuck in northbound traffic on I-95 near Northwest 62nd Street, did a double take at the vanity tag on the pickup truck in front of her: A four-letter word that begins and ends with T.

”I literally almost drove off the road,” Rifkin says. ”It is a vulgar term for female genitalia — and I was offended.” She grabbed her cellphone and snapped a photo.


The tag — a Marine Corps specialty plate on a 2006 white Mitsubishi Raider — is registered to Stewart Tabares, 28, of Pembroke Pines. He could not be reached for comment. However, Tabares offered an explanation when he applied for the tag at the West Regional Courthouse in Plantation. He told a clerk that the T-word ”is a tactical group in the Marine Corps he was in,” according to state records.

Tabares served with the Marines for four years, from 2002 to 2006. He did a four-month Afghanistan tour and attained the rank of sergeant, says Maj. Manuel J. Delarosa, a Marine Corps spokesman at the Pentagon. He worked in telecommunications, as a ”field wireman.” From Wikipedia: ”A common colloquialism for and amongst field telecommunications personnel in the . . . Marine Corps is Tactical Wire Assault Team, abbreviated as T.W.A.T.”

Ms. Rifkin is trying to get the state to yank the plate.

Palmer Brand, assistant chief for titles and registration in the Division of Motor Vehicles, says there are 462,875 active personalized plates. Written complaints are required for tracking purposes, he says. The DMV manual tells how to lodge a complaint, Brand adds. Complaints can also be emailed to

Brand says he would not have let this tag through. ”I know pretty much every dirty word around — in several languages.” Department spokeswoman Ann Nucatola, who serves on the license plate review board, says she didn’t know its derogatory meaning. ”I had to call my husband.”

That must have been an interesting phone call.

Some motorists can become very creative when it comes to requesting a vanity plate, using code words or acronyms for obscenities or descriptions of intimate conduct (I saw BOHICA on a plate once), so the DMV’s have to be on their guard. Sometimes they go overboard; a couple of years ago Florida tried to recall “JEWBAN,” which is an affectionate term in the Cuban community for people of the Jewish faith. Someone in Tallahassee thought it was a call to ban Jews. The owner got to keep the plate after enough people said it wasn’t offensive.

On the other hand, some states let questionable ones go by: I had a roommate who’s name was Jerry Aronson. He had a film company called Jerry Aronson Productions, so his Colorado plate was J.A.P. Apparently the Colorado DMV was unaware of epithets for people of Japanese ancestry or stereotypes of wealthy young Jewish women.