Cussing in the press
( not a post for the readily offended)
Here is an intelligent discussion from the Guardian about the use of profanity in newspapers, or, more accurately, in their newspaper, which eschews asterisks in favor of a policy of either quoting a person or not quoting them. Don't click if you don't want to see some naughty words. In fact, don't read any farther in this post if you don't want to see some naughty words.
The graphic above, tracing the rise of profanity in the Guardian, comes from a separate blog post and was referenced in the comments, which are far more interesting than comments at most news sites and are (thus) worth reading.
I agree with the Guardian writer, not only because I already felt that way but because he quotes Charlotte Bronte in his defense. Anyone who can quote Charlotte Bronte in defense of writing "fuck" has my vote right off the bat.
At the same time, I'd offer two observations:
1. As a reporter, it's unfair to use vulgarities yourself while conducting an interview, enticing your subject to also use vulgarities, and then quote him accurately without peppering a representative number of your own throughout the article to capture the tone of the discussion. It's entrapment, causing him to be depicted as someone who routinely goes blue in settings where others would not.
2. When I was in college, only a few years past the Free Speech Movement in Berkeley, my father sent me an article from either Harper's or the Atlantic Monthly about the rise of vulgarity, with the intriguing question, "If you say &*%$E##& in public, what do you say to a flat tire in the middle of the Golden Gate bridge at rush hour?" Alas, I am quoting from memory. Would love to read the piece again 40 years later and see how I feel about it now. But there is something to be said for reserving a few truly special expressions for those truly special moments.
Finally, just on the off-chance of confounding an assumption or two, I found this article referenced at Al Jazeera, in a posting about Malaysia's apparent loosening of language restrictions, specifically its non-censoring of the vulgarity-laden film "Kick-Ass."