D.C. vanity plate oddities: ‘TOLEDO’ fine, ‘DETROIT’ isn’t


License plates in our nation’s capital bear the unmistakable rant of the oppressed: “Taxation Without Representation.” Point being, of course, that residents of the District of Columbia pay taxes to the federal government but have no voting voice on Capitol Hill.

The plates have been standard issue in D.C. since 2000. For 13 years, it has been a surprisingly blunt political statement — one you won’t spot on cars in, say, Moscow or Havana. In January, the Obama Administration put them on presidential limousines, a move viewed as an endorsement of fiscal autonomy and eventual true home rule for D.C.

However, free speech in the District is not absolute.

It’s not easy to get a vanity plate past the censors at D.C.’s Department of Motor Vehicles. What could be more patriotic than putting the word “FREEDOM” on your license plate? Forget it. Not in Washington. It’s not permitted.

I wanted to find out just how far a driver in Washington could go in self-expression on a license plate, so I checked the district’s master list of forbidden combinations — made available by a public records request by Yahoo – to see what would fly. It’s impressive: 53 pages long and nearly 27,000 banned entries.

Want to add your own complaint about taxes? “NO TAX” and “NO TAXES” are both OK, as is the unlikely “TAX ME.”

But as you might guess, most variations on the word “suck” are nonstarters. “GOPSUX” is banned. Interestingly, “DEMSSUK” is OK. It must have something to do with the pluperfect subjunctive. Or maybe nobody has applied for it.

Want to let Congress know what you think of it? “DONUTHN” is available. “LAMEDUK” is OK. So is “BADBOY.” But “BIGBOY” is not. Vanity has its limits at the DMV.

The list of banned combinations includes all the obvious plays on words of a violent or sexual nature. “HITMAN” and “SNIPER” obviously are banned. So is “GUN4HIR,” although it’s not clear why anyone in that line of work would want to advertise publicly.

You can’t say “STUD.” No “HOTBUNS” and no “LOVE U.” And “BILLNME” is banned – even if your name is Hillary. Or Monica.

If there’s a Sherman T. Walker in the District and he wants a vanity plate, he needs to stay away from “STWALKR.” They’ll just say no.

Surprisingly, most given names are rejected. No “RITA.” No “ANDY.” The presumably innocuous “TOOTSIE” is banned. So is the seemingly harmless combination “H2OLILY.” Water lily? Seriously?

Even proud terms such as “VETERAN” and “VIETVET” don’t make the cut. Neither does “BUTRFLY.” And don’t try to go all Disney on the DMV. “POOH” is a no-no. Sorry, Winnie, you’re a four-letter word.

Also puzzling are these benign but banned words: “CLEVER,” “TROUT,” “SUBLIME,” “SKYLINE,” and “MEDIATE.” How about “YOLO”? No? C’mon, you only live once. Despite the vagueness and undeniable truth of “UNEVRNO,” it too is on the banned list.

Neither can you say “IMAGINE” in D.C. Imagine that. Too John Lennon? “DUCHESS” is another no-no. Must be a sore point dating to the Revolution.

Moving to the nation’s capital and wanting to express a little hometown pride? “TOLEDO” is not on the banned list. But “DETROIT” is.

You also can’t say “BOURBON” on a D.C. plate, although I don’t see the harm. Isn’t that what keeps Washington a well-oiled machine, at least after dark?

Here’s another harmless word you can’t put on your plates in D.C.: “BREATHE.” Sounds like good advice to share with other frustrated motorists trapped in rush-hour Washington traffic.

Washington is proud of its sports teams, but you’d never know it from the license plates in the parking lot at FedEx Field, where the Redskins play football. “REDSKIN” and most of its variations would offend many Native Americans.

But “GOPATS” is OK, if you don’t mind the single-finger salutes of other drivers who despise that team from New England. Oddly, however, while “FENWAY” and “REDSOX” are banned, “GOSOX” is not.

Similarly, a fan of baseball’s Washington Nationals can’t express love for that team. “GONATS” is a no-no. I guess it’s in how you say it. “GOYANKS” also is forbidden, so at least there is some sense of justice in the DMV’s world.

Invoking the Lord’s name doesn’t work. “GOD” and almost any other combination of letters and numbers is rejected. It’s that whole church and state thing.

Finally, explain this one to me: “HOORAH.” It’s prohibited.

I wonder whether all these license plate combinations would be banned here in Ohio. All you can do is ask. As they say down at the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles: UNEVRNO.

Thomas Walton is the retired editor and vice president of The Blade. His column appears every other Monday. His commentary, “Life As We Know It,” can be heard each Monday at 5:44 p.m. on WGTE-FM 91.

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