"*** ***** ** this"

Do you know what words the above stars refer to?

Neither do I. I suppose English offers hundreds of possibilities.

And this is one problem that I have with the deletion of expletives from quotes in newspapers. I'm preparing to write a paper examining the issue, focusing how Blagojevich's "bleeping golden" comments were edited (or not) and printed.

At first, I was prepared to argue that there is no difference between "f---" and "fuck" (no, I do not edit myself) because both words refer to the exact same thing, and have the same meaning. This seems akin to saying "gato" (from Spanish) and "cat" have the same meaning.

However, I spoke with a linguist who talked about the idea of creating a linguistic community. She pointed out that only "in" members of the community can interpret coded messages with deleted letters. So when I use "f***", I am speaking in code, and assuming that readers will be able to understand what I mean. This creates a feeling of trust and connection.

In addition, readers who aren't "in" are unable to interpret the message. For those who are interested in protecting children from foul language, this is important. A child who doesn't already know the word "fuck" could learn it from reading this blog entry, or a news story with unedited quotes, but he won't start saying it after reading a censored version.

Another consideration is that the words are shocking, and this may be important to express the full weight of the context. For instance, Blago swore repeatedly, and I think this says something about the situation, and about his personality and attitude. I'm not sure if this could be conveyed as well using "expletive deleted." I think that when situations are offensive, sometimes the reader needs to be offended, because offense if the appropriate response.


1 comment:

  1. I agree that the asterisk code seems to work best. Instead of cleaning up someone's words, you're just hiding them from a small audience of sensitive readers. Most readers will have no problem filling in the blanks.

    I am vehemently opposed to any other kind of censorship. If Blagojevich or Cheney conduct themselves unprofessionally, then it's the journalist's job to call them out on it.