Taboo initialism avoidance

In today’s NYT, “Making Facebook Less Infantile” by Austin Considine, about reactions to parents’ posting so much material about their babies, referring to

a new Web tool called, which replaces the baby pictures on Facebook feeds with things that people prefer to see, like photos of cats, sunsets and bacon.

and noting that

There are already blogs devoted to mocking over-sharing parents who, for example, post photos of their placentas. (“You used to be fun,” reads the tagline. “Now you have a baby.”) A tongue-in-cheek clothing line called AntiBaby sells T-shirts, hats and baby bibs sporting slogans like “I’m not pro-abortion, I’m anti-baby!”

The first of these references is apparently to a specific site, which is unnamed and unlinked-to in the Times story. Because the paper finds it offensive.

This information from Ben Zimmer, who tells me that the blog in question is “STFU, Parents” (here) and that the writer of the blog was told that the blog wasn’t named because “the Times does not use such references”.

This is a step down from the case reported here, where the Times didn’t name the blog at issue (“Fuck, I’m in My Twenties”) — saying only that it “begins with a common vulgar interjection”– but did link to it.

I noted a little while ago that

some people object to WTF and its kin. (The taint of the abbreviated word is inherited by its initial letter.)

and it looks like the Times does this too; this time it’s STFU (Shut the Fuck Up).

A subtlety. Some time ago Language Log writers looked at cases where the paper was in a cleft stick over titles (of books, movies, plays, etc.) with taboo vocabulary in them: what happens in reviews, bestseller lists, and the like? There’s no getting around the words with the devices the paper uses so prissily in other contexts (like “a common vulgar interjection”). In these cases, and apparently only there, the paper will use avoidance characters, like dashes or asterisks, letter for letter — but for every letter in the avoided words, even the first (so: ****, not s***). Otherwise, asterisking is verboten.

The governing principle seems to be that a substitute must not ever suggest either the phonology or the orthography of the avoided word. In an emergency, avoidance characters can be used, but otherwise even the letters in an initialism have to be avoided, just as much as the words they stand for.

Think of the children.


5 Responses to “Taboo initialism avoidance”

  1. ===Dan Says:

    The initial was avoided in the NYT here
    but not here .

  2. Taboo initials (cont.) « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] chapter in the saga of taboo avoidance in the NYT. In the last chapter, the paper had moved past its refusal to use avoidance strategies like F*** and the F-word, which […]

  3. ===Dan Says:

    Another report about inconsistent treatment:

  4. This Week’s Language Blog Roundup: Taboo initials, language peeves, and more | Wordnik Says:

    […] New York Times experienced STFU-gate, about which Arnold Zwicky had a thing or two to say. While The Times doesn’t like certain words, of course it likes others. Meanwhile, […]

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