When Whitney Calk sought a personalised license plate from a US state agency to tout her vegetarian ideals, she was annoyed when she was told no. Turns out the letters ILVTOFU can be construed to mean more than enjoying bean curd.
"When I see T-O-F-U, I see tofu," says Calk, who requested the so-called vanity plate from the Tennessee Department of Revenue last September.
"I can't control the way anyone else interprets that," said Calk, 26, an animal rights activist from Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
The dilemma faced by Tennessee authorities last year is not unusual, as officials at motor vehicle agencies consider hundreds of thousands of personalised plate requests each year. There are an estimated nine million personalised license plates in the United States.
The vast majority of the requests are not objectionable, but thousands provide insight not only into the boundaries of free speech but the amount of human ingenuity expended to display seven and eight character insults, sexual references and descriptions of bodily functions to other motorists.