The New York Times
| The Wall Street Journal
On Sunday, Jesse Sheidlower wrote an op-ed piece for The New York Times making "The Case for Profanity in Print."
Our society’s comfort level with offensive language and content has drastically shifted over the past few decades, but the stance of our news media has barely changed at all. Even when certain words are necessary to the understanding of a story, the media frequently resort to euphemisms or coy acrobatics that make stories read as if they were time capsules written decades ago, forcing us all into wink-wink-nudge-nudge territory. Even in this essay, I am unable to be clear about many of my examples.
Sheidlower, author of “The F-Word” and president of the American Dialect Society
, wrote that often the words themselves are the story, and other times, they're integral to the story itself.
On Sunday, The Wall Street Journal's "Style & Substance" covered the same issue, in part. The piece refers to a March 7 story which included the word "ass
." In the past, the story reports, that word would have been a--.
What has changed? Standards Editor Neal Lipschutz says the change is slight. Use of impolite words should still be rare, but there are certain words that we’ll publish now that we wouldn’t have used a decade ago. There still has to be a compelling reason to use the quotation, including demonstrating insight into someone’s character by his or her word choices, but there are times when ass, jackass or yes, suck, may be allowed to appear, in cases where they might have been “Barney-dashed” before.
The reasoning is that we want to be classy without being Victorian, in line with the evolving language. “We still want to be tasteful, but we also want to as much as possible reflect how people speak in this era,” Neal says.
I stopped by the office of my colleague, Roy Peter Clark, Monday morning to talk about these articles and the roll of "bad" words. Clark stood up, walked to a tall book shelf and pulled down his copy of Sheidlower's "The F-Word."
In many ways, some words that used to offend don't do so any more, he told me, and new ones rise to take their place.