January 27, 2009

I changed the name of this town

240px-Twatt_Orkney_Road_Sign.JPG Last week, the New York Times had an authentically amusing article about the poor folks who live in British towns and streets with obscene-sounding names. Names like Crotch Crescent, Wetwang, Slutshole Lane, and Titty Ho.

Many of the names, the article notes, are found in the books Rude Britain and Rude UK, "which list arguably offensive place names — some so arguably offensive that, unfortunately, they cannot be printed here."

Yeah, you knew self-censorship was going to come into play here. And no one familiar with media prudishness would expect the Times -- even in an article that's entirely devoted to crude humor -- to print names like Cocknmouth, Shitterton or Twatt. (Though since Slutshole made the cut, a determined writer could surely have challenged prohibitions to Sandy Balls, Fingring Hoe, Rimswell, and Funbag Drive.)

What's odd, as Eric Nelson pointed out to me, is that this apologetic moment of decorum comes shortly after the following passage:

Several months ago, Lewes District Council in East Sussex tried to address the problem of inadvertent place-name titillation by saying that “street names which could give offense” would no longer be allowed on new roads.

“Avoid aesthetically unsuitable names,” like Gaswork Road, the council decreed. Also, avoid “names capable of deliberate misinterpretation,” like Hoare Road, Typple Avenue, Quare Street and Corfe Close.

(What is wrong with Corfe Close, you might ask? The guidelines mention the hypothetical residents of No. 4, with their unfortunate hypothetical address, “4 Corfe Close.” To find the naughty meaning, you have to repeat the first two words rapidly many times, preferably in the presence of your fifth-grade classmates.)

It's really mind-boggling. The newspaper can hold your hand and guide you inexorably to the words fuck off, but it can't actually print the words themselves. Because children might be reading. Except the paper then acknowledges that 10-year-olds not only already know these words, but are more likely than adults to conjure them given the slightest excuse.

On a related note, my memory is a bit hazy, but I'm pretty sure that back in 1999 or 2000 I was one of the first cybernauts to discover and propagate this. I was so juvenile then.

Posted by Daniel Radosh


Daniel, I'm working now at an upscale women's mag going through letters to the editor from the past year. An astounding number are from people cancelling their subscriptions because we used "fuck" or "shit" in a quote. Not gratuitously, but in a quote.

I agree that the gymnastics the NYT goes through to avoid cussing is absurd. I've assumed adults, regardless of political bent, are familiar with cuss words, most people use them, but if they don't they can deal with their occasional occurrence in print.

Now I'm not so sure. There are a shitload of cancelled subscriptions, and the letter writers aren't _completely_ insane--they compose coherent sentences, paragraphs, etc. FWIW.

So: Given all the other flack the Times (unfairly) gets for being "liberal" and all, maybe it makes business sense to not give self-appointed moralizers and idiots any additional ammunition for their hating?

There are a shitload of cancelled subscriptions...

Please cancel my subscription to this blog, effective immediately.

What a cuntry.

I imagine the furor over printed cuss words would be similar to the fallout from the janet Jackson episode during the superbowl. Kids know that breasts exist and can tell you where to find plenty of them but they must be kept (just barely) concealed or else punishment will rain down. It's the kind of arbitrariness that has made America what it is today

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