Over on Language Log, we’ve remarked repeatedly on the lengths the New York Times will go to to avoid certain taboo vocabulary and also to avoid standard avoidance schemes (asterisking, “[expletive]“, “the F-word”, replacement euphemisms in square brackets, etc.), which the Times seems to believe call too much attention to those nasty expressions. Instead, the paper opts for more indirect (often rather coy) methods of avoidance. I’ve recently gotten reports of two instances of going at things slantwise.
First, Ben Zimmer wrote with this wonderful avoidance in the obituary for the classicist Kenneth Dover:
In it [his memoir, Marginal Comment], Mr. Dover abandoned traditional British restraint in discussing, among much else, his sexual exploits with his wife, Lady Audrey Dover. Nor did he stint, as The Times of London said in its review of the book, in his use of “the Anglo-Saxon tetragram” to recount the proceedings.
That’s the Anglo-Saxon, rather than the Hebrew, tetragram. (Holy fuck, Batman!)
And Jesse Sheidlower found this baffling piece of avoidance, referring to the 70s girl band The Runaways:
Creem magazine infamously dismissed them with three unprintable words.
Jesse went to some trouble — there was no link in the Times — to discover that what Creem said was “These bitches suck.” The insult term bitch makes it onto some people’s list of tabooed items; about this deprecating use of suck (roughly, deprecatory ‘stink’) there is some disagreement as to whether it’s really a taboo word, or just rude; and, as for these, it’s unimpeachable. No way Jesse could get three unprintable words out of “these bitches suck”, nor can I. Maybe these was contaminated by its companions bitches and suck; that’s what happens when you hang out in bad company.