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We Used to Know the F-Word When We Saw it

By Ben L. Kaufman · April 4th, 2007 · Media, Myself & I
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Remember when the F-word was "fuck"?

Now it's "faggot," thanks to the GOP's tasty bit, lemon tart Ann Coulter. But some editors won't tell you. They report the latest fuss but not the F-word.

That's the trouble. We never know what the F(orbidden)-word is.

Why is it newsworthy when Ann Coulter calls Al Gore a "fag" and John Edwards a "faggot"? If she's a serious political player, tell me why. Otherwise, spike the story.

But now we have at least two F-words, plus the N-word, P-word, S-word, C-words, B-words, A-words and the M-word, and all you get are those !@#$%^& obfuscations.*

It is simpler when editors refer to an "obscenity" or "homophobic" word. Then we can fantasize rather than know what was said. Sometimes editors substitute "racial epithet" or "scatological" expression, hoping readers and listeners will distinguish between scat or epithet and "epitaph" or "eschatological."

And yes, I'm sympathetic to those editors. Aging audiences tend to avoid F-words or M-words in daily speech and would find it distressing to see them spelled out in the family newspaper or perfectly pronounced by Clyde, Carol, Trisha, Rob or Kit.

(Full disclosure: My favorite use of the wonderfully flexible traditional F-word came from my teletype operator at UPI in London: "In-fucking-CREdible!")

I won't even get into FUBAR and SNAFU.

All of this recalls slitting pages apart in the signatures of French editions and nostalgia for words that had the power to provoke an FBI investigation, Senate probe, job loss or libel suit. What happened to the old C-word ("Commie" or "com-symp") or M-word ("McCarthyite" -- drunken Joe, not poet Gene)?

*Nigger, pussy, shit, cunt or cocksucker, bastard or blowjob, ass and asshole and motherfucker.

Think of that last one. For many, the M-word is "marriage."

But back to sex. Try explaining Oedipal relationships. That could drown the M-word in a Greek chorus of Freudian fantasies.

Curmudgeon notes

· The Enquirer made critical errors in its important story about graphic illustrations of aborted fetuses outside a Clifton clinic. It quoted Sally Sonkara on the signs' deleterious impact on her customers at the Cactus Pear restaurant. Her name was misspelled. It is Sunkara. The misspelling reappears in reader responses. Also, her restaurant is next to the clinic, not across the street; diners cannot see the signs at the clinic from their tables. To my knowledge, neither error has been corrected. Has The Enquirer resumed correcting errors only if victims of mistakes complain? Both errors are consequential, as is editors' decision to not show the antiabortion signs -- the subject of the story -- clearly.

· Jonathan Meadows Townhomes is the first new housing development in Evanston in half a century; one videographer shows up. A shooting that night in Evanston draws blanket coverage.

· The Enquirer runs a guest column from the local mother of a wounded vet at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Now is there any excuse for ignoring local wounded and recovering vets?

· Walter Reed Army Medical Center is run by the army. The army is run by the Department of Defense. Walter Reed is not run by the Department of Veterans Affairs. That's why it's not called VA Medical Center ... like the one in Avondale.

· Read Ari Berman's essay, "Looking Out for Veterans," at

Now it's "faggot," thanks to the GOP's tasty bit, lemon tart Ann Coulter.

But some editors won't tell you. They report the latest fuss but not the F-word.

That's the trouble. We never know what the F(orbidden)-word is.

Why is it newsworthy when Ann Coulter calls Al Gore a "fag" and John Edwards a "faggot"? If she's a serious political player, tell me why. Otherwise, spike the story.

But now we have at least two F-words, plus the N-word, P-word, S-word, C-words, B-words, A-words and the M-word, and all you get are those !@#$%^& obfuscations.*

It is simpler when editors refer to an "obscenity" or "homophobic" word. Then we can fantasize rather than know what was said. Sometimes editors substitute "racial epithet" or "scatological" expression, hoping readers and listeners will distinguish between scat or epithet and "epitaph" or "eschatological."

And yes, I'm sympathetic to those editors. Aging audiences tend to avoid F-words or M-words in daily speech and would find it distressing to see them spelled out in the family newspaper or perfectly pronounced by Clyde, Carol, Trisha, Rob or Kit.

(Full disclosure: My favorite use of the wonderfully flexible traditional F-word came from my teletype operator at UPI in London: "In-fucking-CREdible!")

I won't even get into FUBAR and SNAFU.

All of this recalls slitting pages apart in the signatures of French editions and nostalgia for words that had the power to provoke an FBI investigation, Senate probe, job loss or libel suit. What happened to the old C-word ("Commie" or "com-symp") or M-word ("McCarthyite" -- drunken Joe, not poet Gene)?

*Nigger, pussy, shit, cunt or cocksucker, bastard or blowjob, ass and asshole and motherfucker.

Think of that last one. For many, the M-word is "marriage."

But back to sex. Try explaining Oedipal relationships. That could drown the M-word in a Greek chorus of Freudian fantasies.

Curmudgeon notes

· The Enquirer made critical errors in its important story about graphic illustrations of aborted fetuses outside a Clifton clinic. It quoted Sally Sonkara on the signs' deleterious impact on her customers at the Cactus Pear restaurant. Her name was misspelled. It is Sunkara. The misspelling reappears in reader responses. Also, her restaurant is next to the clinic, not across the street; diners cannot see the signs at the clinic from their tables. To my knowledge, neither error has been corrected. Has The Enquirer resumed correcting errors only if victims of mistakes complain? Both errors are consequential, as is editors' decision to not show the antiabortion signs -- the subject of the story -- clearly.

· Jonathan Meadows Townhomes is the first new housing development in Evanston in half a century; one videographer shows up. A shooting that night in Evanston draws blanket coverage.

· The Enquirer runs a guest column from the local mother of a wounded vet at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Now is there any excuse for ignoring local wounded and recovering vets?

· Walter Reed Army Medical Center is run by the army. The army is run by the Department of Defense. Walter Reed is not run by the Department of Veterans Affairs. That's why it's not called VA Medical Center ... like the one in Avondale.

· Read Ari Berman's essay, "Looking Out for Veterans," at thenation.com.

· I challenged a libelous Wikipedia article on The Enquirer's 1998 Chiquita fiasco. Jimmy Wales, a founder of Wikipedia, responded: "I just now found this old e-mail and checked up on the issue. I removed that entire section from the piece and asked that it be carefully fact-checked before any reinsertion. I see the problem you are talking about." The article now redeems that commitment.

· Wonderful quote in The Washington Post from Tom G. Palmer after federal judges struck down the District of Columbia's restrictions on residents' firearms: "Let's be honest: Although there are many fine officers in the police department, there's a simple test. Call Domino's Pizza (and) the police and time which one gets there first."

· Houston Chronicle staffers are red-faced after a photo cutline for a story about Anna Nicole Smith said, "The model could barely right a sentence."

· WCPO leaves cincinnati.com, and Clear Channel takes over technical support for WCPO's Web site. Late on a Thursday, WCPO home page headlined a Monday earthquake near Cleveland. Join me and Mrs. Robinson and hum, "Where have you gone, Al Schottelkotte?"

· I turned to Enquirer's GetPublished site for real people and local local Clifton news the other day. The lead story was on Christ Hospital (Mount Auburn), followed by a UC recital and a false bomb threat at Hebrew Union College (University Heights). After that, there was a major feature on an East End restaurant.

· U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales arrives in Cincinnati to be greeted by an Enquirer call for his resignation. Well done. Now let's see the same courage about spending and hiring at tax-supported and financially troubled National Underground Railroad Freedom Center.

· You read about it first here two years ago. Now, with new owners led by Roger Ach, the redesigned Downtowner is in the boxes, rebranded Downtowner, the Pulse of the City. Circulation is being expanded to Covington, Newport, Bellevue, Oakley, Hyde Park, O'Bryonville, East Walnut Hills, Clifton and Northside. Web site is PulseDt.com.

· The student newspaper The Northerner hit Northern Kentucky University's image with banner page 1 headline, "Study: 26 percent of NKU females raped." Made Duke sound like a celibate retreat. Missing was the qualifier that Assistant Prof. Kim Breitenbecher's study drew on experiences since age 14, including NKU. Data from the largely freshman and sophomore students indicated most rapes probably occurred before enrolling at NKU.

· The Washington Post's Style Invitational asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting or changing one letter and supply a new definition. Here is my favorite:

Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future.



Ben L. Kaufman teaches journalism ethics at Northern Kentucky University.
 
 
 
 

 

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