Sunday, January 22, 2017

Piggy? Party? Porky?

At long last, The Washington Post, which sensibilities are we protecting here? Even if you have trouble settling the one-word-or-two question, surely a quick search will suggest that "pussyhat," at least, has had some currency in your pages in recent days.

The naughty-words question is part generational, part cultural and part routine. When I started working at America's Newspapers in 1977, the possible appearance of "damn" or "hell" in print called for a consultation with the managing editor. Two decades on, we get-off-my-lawnists were at the barricades against the Butthole Surfers. By now, even the AP Stylebook has capitulated on "snafu" ("acceptable despite its vulgar origin"). News language is historically conservative (with rare exceptions, like Trib spelling), and it's certainly less unpleasant to be attacked as a prude than as a vulgarian.

As with "major league asshole" in 2000, there's also a heat-of-the-moment factor. It's hard to define the point at which an event stops being news, but the farther we get from the event, the more likely it is that a vulgarism -- or another taboo violation, like an image of death -- will be seen as gratuitous. "Seen by whom" is yet another question; you might be offending someone, but it's fair to calculate whether it's nearly everyone or those dwindling few who actually call the office and offer to proofread the paper for free at the sight of a wayward comma. And at some point, someone has to make a decision.

Much as I enjoyed the "Fuck You Cheeto Voldemort" sign, I wouldn't have waved it into a newspaper. But I would gently suggest that anyone who's tempted to cancel the old subscription over "This Pussy Fights Back," in this story, probably shouldn't have started reading it in the first place. As a rimrat, I might ask whether we're sure it wasn't "This Pussy Grabs Back,"  but I probably would have hyphenated "major-league asshole," too.

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