7.6.06

Color me conservative

Language Log posted about Words that can't be printed in the NYT, and includes these guidelines from the Guardian
fuck
do not describe this as "a good, honest old-fashioned Anglo-Saxon word" because, first, here is no such thing as an Anglo-Saxon word (they spoke Old English) and, more important, it did not appear until the late 13th century
see swearwords

swearwords
We are more liberal than any other newspaper, using words such as cunt and fuck that most of our competitors would not use.
The editor's guidelines are straightforward:
First, remember the reader, and respect demands that we should not casually use words that are likely to offend.
Second, use such words only when absolutely necessary to the facts of a piece, or to portray a character in an article; there is almost never a case in which we need to use a swearword outside direct quotes.
Third, the stronger the swearword, the harder we ought to think about using it.
Finally, never use asterisks, which are just a copout.
I've seen The Words popping up more and more in magazines that once were, well, more circumspect (The New Yorker springs to mind). What a pity they don't emulate the Guardian.

Doesn't anyone remember that using Those Words tactically is far better than using them casually? My mother is a big believer in le mot juste, and when she uses a curse word, it's memorable. It's not one of those words she drops into everyday conversation - there's impact, and shock, when she says one.

I've met teachers that use that sort of language in the classroom. I've heard people I respect sounding like truckers. Don't get me wrong: I know the words, and I can use them (and have done!). But many times I catch myself and wonder, is this really how I want people to hear me? Is this the image I want to portray?

The answer is "no." Not just because I work in a school and need to Set An Example, but because there's a time and a place for certain language. Some words should not be used casually, and some words should be. These words - the ones that the NYTimes (which in almost all other respects is going downhill as a newspaper) can't or won't print - are not casual words.

If that makes me a fuddy-duddy, so be it.

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7 comments:

Sherri said...

I don't think you a fuddy duddy. I, like you, temper my use of The Words for maximum effect, for the place I'm in and people I am with. There's no point in offending people with crudery if it isn't absolutely necessary (say, as opposed to shooting them in the face). I have certain groups of friends for whom such words are sprinkled in conversation as casually as salt on mashed potatos, and I will tend to be more salty while with them -- I see it as a manners thing, since not to participate even a little might appear as if I were passing a judgement or attempting to be superor. However, "pottymouth" is not one of my leading charateristics.

I'm a collector of curse words and source words. I like having the approriate phrase at hand, should I need it. There are some I will not use, and others I relish. One book I have is all about the F word (and is titled "The F Word" -- later editions have a lot of the fun stuff edited out, including F word variations from around the world). But when I want to precisely and concisely convey a particular emotional state or opinion, sometimes nothing words so well as The Words.

Overuse just robs them of their power. I think you are wise, not old fashioned.

Sherri said...

and I HATE typos because you only see them when it's TOO LATE TO FIX them.

Karmon said...

Most of the time (80-85%) I'm mindful of the swear words I use (although booger sounds like other things when said softly and directed at the computer screen). But strangely I've learned I'm more likely to use strong profanity when I'm in a really bad mood. Then you can judge my mood by the word choices I make and their frequency.

The Guardian makes a good point about using the asterisk. It is a copout.

Lazygal said...

My students can tell when I'm in a bad mood: I'll say FUDGE with great emphasis. Fudge with peanut brittle means "watch out"!

camillofan said...

You are neither old-fashioned nor a fuddy-duddy; you simply have what used to be known as class. I can't say I've never sworn, but I can say unequivocally that in all cases in which I've used an impolite word, I'd have done better to find an alternative. Rude language demeans the speaker and insults the listener. Conversely, taking the time and mental effort to find a creative way around the nastiness is what civilization is all about.

And sorry, Guardian, but there is never an appropriate occasion for the words fuck and cunt (did I just type that?).

Had to laugh at the asterisks. You won't be surprised to learn that I have no problem with them, though I prefer "Beetle Bailey"- type character strings #$@*%()$%()$_%#*. :-) The "copout" line reminded me of Lauren Bacall's character in My Fellow Americans; when her President husband (Jack Lemmon) uses a substitute swearword, she rebukes him thus: "Don't say 'freaking,' Russ. If you have to use the 'F' word, go for the gold."

Lazygal said...

Cam, I think what the Guardian is suggesting is that if the word is used by an interviewee, or is in a book being reviewed, then it is ok to use it. But that a reporter, on their own, should not. Which makes sense - I can just imagine what those Watergate tapes would have "sounded" like sans all the [expletive deleteds].

camillofan said...

I still think the interviewee should be bleeped. But, then, I am a fuddy-duddy. ;-)