Jesse Sheidlower has a superb op-ed piece in yesterday’s NY Times taking the US media in general, and the Times in particular, to task for its prudish avoidance of “bad words”:
Our society’s comfort level with offensive language and content has drastically shifted over the past few decades, but the stance of our news media has barely changed at all. Even when certain words are necessary to the understanding of a story, the media frequently resort to euphemisms or coy acrobatics that make stories read as if they were time capsules written decades ago, forcing us all into wink-wink-nudge-nudge territory. Even in this essay, I am unable to be clear about many of my examples. […]
There have been numerous cases in recent years when the use of offensive language has been the news story itself. […] These stories were covered widely, but in most cases, the details were obscured. The relevant words were described variously as “an obscenity,” “a vulgarity,” “an antigay epithet”; replaced with rhyming substitutions; printed with some letters omitted; and, most absurdly, in The Washington Times (whose editor confessed this was “an attempt at a little humor”), alluded to as “a vulgar euphemism for a rectal aperture.” We learn from these stories that something important happened, but that it can’t actually be reported. […]
When language can play such a hot-button role in our society, what we need is more reporting, not less.
I hope the Times takes appropriate action, but I won’t hold my breath.
Somewhat related: Jonathon Green has published an autobiography, Odd Job Man: Some Confessions of a Slang Lexicographer; you can read lively reviews by Nicholas Shakespeare in the Telegraph (thanks, Paul!) and by Stan Carey at his blog.