Three recent examples of taboo avoidance in the media, each with its own points of interest: (1) a thoroughly avoidable use of “[expletive]” in the NYT, which generally avoids such things; (2) the ostentatious denominal derived verb un-four-letter-Anglo-Saxon-word, on the RedState site; and (3) the playful noun-that-I-can’t-print-in-this-newspaper, from a NYT columnist.
(1) Ostentatious “[expletive]“. From “Cooking Isn’t Creative, and It Isn’t Easy” by Alex Halberstadt, in the NYT Magazine on the 14th, about cooking writer Christopher Kimball:
“I didn’t yet have the guts to stand up and do what I felt was right, and so Cook’s wasn’t all that different from the competition,” he says. “We didn’t make much money, and I spent that decade in a pretty [expletive] mood.”
The Times prefers to avoid the bracketed expletive device, and in this case it would be easy to get around it, by employing the tactic (which the Times uses on other occasions) of moving the taboo item out from inside the quotation marks and paraphrasing it there. For instance:
“We didn’t make much money, and I spent that decade in” a pretty nasty mood.
In this version, it’s not clear that Kimball used a taboo adjective — presumably, shitty — at all; the function of the bracketed expletive in the original is then to tell us that he did, that despite his often-nerdish demeanor, he could wield an expletive now and again. So the ostentatious “[expletive]” is a small note on his personality and character.
Given all of that, I would have quoted the actual expletive, but that’s a step too far for the Times.
(2) The un-derivative. The RedState quote, by Erick Erickson in “Biden Denied At Least Twice Before Cock Crows” on the 13th:
While the room temperature IQs at MSNBC spent Friday celebrating Joe “Rain Man” Biden’s illusory victory in Thursday’s debate, the White House spent the day trying to un-four-letter-Anglo-Saxon-word Biden’s performance.
In this example the base that combines with the prefix un- stands out because it’s a complex nominal, four-letter Anglo-Saxon word, rather than just a noun, and the base is already notable because it piles on two different ways of referring to taboo vocabulary, four-letter word and Anglo-Saxon word.
In any event, the derivative verb is ostentatious, showoff-y. But I’m not entirely sure what Erickson was trying to convey with it. Not ‘remove taboo vocabulary from’, because Biden’s performance (on this occasion) had none in it. Perhaps unfuck ‘reverse a fuck-up’. It’s certainly, as Victor Steinbok (who sent me the example) noted, a piece of oddball taboo avoidance.
(3) Rapping on Obama. Back to the NYT, for a playful piece by Frank Bruni (“Pop Goes the President”) on the 16th:
Nicki Minaj? For real? On Friday the president claimed that her voice was one of those occasionally streaming through his ear buds. I don’t buy it. For starters, she once rapped, facetiously or not, that she was voting for Mitt Romney and that Obama was a “lazy” noun-that-I-can’t-print-in-this-newspaper.
That was lazy fuck in Minaj’s rap, and Bruni was twitting the Times editors.