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February 12, 2010

This Post Is Not Yet Rated

Jesse Lansner

There's been plenty of discussion on this blog regarding how the contortions involved in media self-censorship often transform what would otherwise be a simple report involving the use of foul or abusive language into an impenetrable thicket of euphemisms that leaves the reader at a loss to understand what the hell actually happened and who would supposedly be offended.

Of course, sometimes the meaning is perfectly clear, as in this example from – you guessed it – The New York Times:

Otherwise it may take a practiced eye and ear to realize that a popular Anglo-Saxon expletive is acceptable in a PG-13 movie as long as it is only heard once and does not refer to a sexual act.

Short of rendering the word in question as f--k, its hard to see how A. O. Scott – or, more likely, his editors – could have been clearer about the word in question while still keeping the article suitable for a family paper. Well, unless he just wrote out fuck, since, as he just noted, even as prudish a body as the MPAA is okay with 13-year-olds hearing the word in a non-sexual context, and it's not like anyone under 13 (or 30) is going to read this article. [The one part of Scott's phrase that doesn't help to clarify anything is his reference to an "Anglo-Saxon expletive." Pace anyone who still says "pardon my French," all of the popular expletives come from the Germanic side of the language.]

But Scott does give us a clue as to why newspapers still engage in this charade:

It is easy to scoff at that rating only if you have never received angry letters from parents or grandparents appalled by profanity.

So journalists, like movie producers, keep their language clean not because they're worried about what children might hear or read, but because they're concerned about what adults might worry about what children might hear or read. Which means that until the members of a profession that claim to stand up to presidents and CEOs show their willingness to stand up to Grandpa Simpson, it looks like I'll have plenty of things to post here.


i don't like his phrasing either, but the "Saxon" part covers the Germanic side of things.


Douche is French.

Ridiculous that the only prohibited use of the word is the originally intended use. Only incorrect use is OK? WTF?

If they start by burning words can burning thoughts be far behind?

Jamie, what I meant was that calling the word Anglo-Saxon doesn't eliminate that many choices, since all the good profanities -- douche excepted -- are from the Anglo-Saxon/Germanic side of the language, rather than the French/Latin side.

ah, yes i see it now. but comprehension is really the most overrated part of reading.

This is ridiculous... I think people need to stop worrying about these things so much!

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