Thomas L. Friedman in his op-ed piece on Steve Jobs (October 9th) reports the satirical newspaper The Onion as having characterized Jobs as
the only American in the country who had any clue what he was doing
That’s not quite what The Onion said, which was:
the only American in the country who had any clue what the fuck he was doing
This under the headline
Last American Who Knew What The Fuck He Was Doing Dies
The modest Times does not of course quote the head, and circumvents the fuck in the text by careful punctuation.
The beginning of The Onion‘s story:
CUPERTINO, CA—Steve Jobs, the visionary co-founder of Apple Computers and the only American in the country who had any clue what the fuck he was doing, died Wednesday at the age of 56. “We haven’t just lost a great innovator, leader, and businessman, we’ve literally lost the only person in this country who actually had his shit together and knew what the hell was going on,” a statement from President Barack Obama read in part …
Friedman’s column gives only the first sentence — thus averting the later shit and hell from the mock Obama — and sidesteps the fuck in the first sentence by treating the NP in which it occurs as an interpolated paraphrase rather than a part of the actual quotation:
It began by saying: “Steve Jobs, the visionary co-founder of Apple Computers” — and the only American in the country who had any clue what he was doing — “died Wednesday at the age of 56.”
The interpolation not in quotation marks is in fact an exact quotation from The Onion, except for the elided the fuck. This scheme of punctuation allows the Times to conceal the editing process; not only does the Times do its best to avoid taboo vocabulary, it frowns on devices (like “[expletive deleted]” and ellipsis periods) that call attention to taboo avoidance.
Of course, The Onion‘s humor loses a lot of its punch in the process.