For the love of God, I’m sick of the coyness.
It may have started with the reluctance of the mainstream press to publish the common profanities and obscenities. The f-word, we write, when we want to indicate one of the most popular verbs in English.
That led by extension to other objectionable words, at the hazard of some confusion. If you can’t think of at least two terms that the c-word might represent, then your convent education has been a success. The Sun used to represent objectionable words with the initial letter and a string of hyphens, but a former editor decreed that we would use the initial letter and two em-dashes instead (not f - - - but f — —).Don’t treat obscenities like the Jumble, he said; we’re not making it a puzzle for them to solve.
Apprehension about using a taboo word has led to widespread use of the n-word in place of the most common racial slur directed at African-Americans. The NAACP conducted a ceremony this summer to “bury the n-word,” to encourage the retirement of the demeaning word not only among white racists but also among African-Americans themselves.
Good luck with that. As I drive through Baltimore with the car windows open, the n-word blares from car stereos half a dozen times in a block.
The n-word among African-Americans, like the q-word among gays, indicates a persistent phenomenon about pejorative terms. They can be used by members of the group, but not by outsiders. If I, a first-generation Appalachian, choose to utter the c-word (that’s cracker) among my fellow hill-jacks, that’s my business; but you would be well advised to mind your manners.
In the monkey-see-monkey-do world of professional journalism, this weasely circumlocution proliferates all over the landscape. In political articles, one sees the l-word to represent the conviction that dare not breathe its name. This is, of course, meant to be cute, since liberal is an obscene termamong only a handful of readers.
I feel a strong anarchic impulse to abandon all this nonsense and publish words as they are used. But as long as we have readers who find profane and obscene language deeply offensive, it is not in our interest to cheese them off.
At the very least however, if we must tiptoe around the language and festoon it with euphemism, let’s euphemize what is genuinely offensive instead of trying to be cute.