On Language Log this morning, Mark Liberman reported on a characteristic piece of NYT taboo avoidance (on its blogs), with “a vulgar, unprintable phrase” used in place of some vulgarity that the Times considers unprintable. Meanwhile, in the print paper yesterday, we have a man finishing a sentence “with an expletive”. These are reports of taboo vocabulary framed in such a way that the reader cannot be sure what vocabulary was used — only that it was unTimesly.
Mark noted in his posting, as I have in my many postings on taboo avoidance in the Times, that the paper’s stylebook boxes its writers in: it excludes many common avoidance strategies, reducing those writers to vague reports (like these) or paraphrasing outside of quoted material (as here). The vague-report strategy forces the reader into a guessing game.
In Mark’s case, it was:
Still, a flustered adviser [to Romney], describing the mood, said that the campaign was turning into a vulgar, unprintable phrase.
Cluster-fuck? Shit-storm? (perhaps with modifiers). Of course, the campaign wasn’t turning into a phrase, but into the referent of that phrase.
And my find, in “As Chicago Strike Goes On, the Mayor Digs In” by Monica Davey, here:
Mr. Emanuel has his enthusiastic backers in his push for more days and hours in school and for teacher evaluations that consider student test scores, but unions beyond those that represent teachers are irked at Mr. Emanuel’s aggressive handling of the situation. The anger is personal, not aimed generically at some school board or City Hall but squarely at him. When he took his daughter to a Bruce Springsteen concert at Wrigley Field this month, a man approached them and started to speak to the girl. “Your father is,” he began, finishing the sentence with an expletive.
Asshole? Piece of shit? Probably the first, but who knows?