Avoiding the gubernatorial taboo word

One of the side issues in the story (Language Log coverage here) about the acrostic FUCK YOU embedded in a veto statement from California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (apparently as a slap against Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, the sponsor of the bill in question) is question of how the statement has been reported.

Some sites just spell it out. Others use avoidance characters: everything from F*ck you through F*** you to F*** **u. The San Francisco Chronicle has referred several times to “the f-bomb”. But what of the New York Times, which tries so hard to avoid either of these techniques?

Here’s their treatment, typical of the elaborate indirection that the Times goes in for in these matters (“Obscenity, Governor? Oh, That.” by Jesse McKinley, October 29):

The message can be seen only by a careful reading of the printed version of the veto statement. Taking the first letter of each line, beginning with the third line, two words emerge: The first is obscene; the second is “you.”

(For discussion of the Schwarzenegger staff’s denial that there was a hidden message in the statement and their claim that the whole thing was just a coincidence, see the Ben Zimmer posting linked to above.)


2 Responses to “Avoiding the gubernatorial taboo word”

  1. Z. D. Smith Says:

    Am I the only one who seems to detect something of a playful enjoyment of their taboo avoidence? It always seems like many of the Times writers have something of an arch good time when they are called upon to signal in the direction of the word ‘fuck’.

  2. Do Profanity Filters Dream of Philip K. Dick? « Sentence first Says:

    […] and frak. These terms lose in force what they gain in public acceptability. Newspapers still have no consensus on how to convey the word “fuck”, reflecting the mixed attitudes of their readers to its […]

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