Taboo not appropriate

Mark Leibovitch interviewing Sen. Joe Lieberman (“The Last Days of Joementum”) in the NYT Magazine on Sunday (the 4th), p. 14:

[Leibovitch] I’m told you recently enjoyed a Shabbat dinner with Senator McCain in Israel. [Lieberman] He said that traveling with me compelled him to put up with all this Shabbat stuff — well, he actually used another term, but it’s not appropriate.

We’re to suppose that McCain said shit, not stuff — which Lieberman judges to be “not appropriate”. Lieberman could have meant “not appropriate to appear in the New York Times“, and that’s certainly the NYT‘s opinion. But probably he meant something like “not appropriate in talking about the holy day of the week”. Then the question is: Why is Joe Lieberman telling us this? How is McCain’s word choice relevant to the story of the visit to Israel? Lieberman could, after all, just have said “Shabbat stuff” and left it at that.

The usual point of quoting exact wording in cases like this is to shed some light on the personality or character of the person quoted — in this case, to communicate something of McCain’s coarseness and his disregard for Judaism (as Lieberman judges these things). “Shabbat stuff” would have done for the second, but not the first, and to do that Lieberman had to convey something of the flavor of McCain’s actual speech. Lieberman could have reported “Shabbat shit”, but that would have been unprintable in the Times, and it would also have tarred Lieberman with the same brush as McCain.

So we got: “he actually used another term, but it’s not appropriate”.


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