Does Our Country Have To Be A Profanity-hole?

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As I write this my inbox is filled with email newsletters using in the subject line a vulgar word that refers to bodily waste. They come from mainstream news organizations, many of which are using the word in stories, columns, and even headlines. (If you missed it, the second half of the word is “hole.” Figure out the rest for yourself.)

The justification for this is the supposedly horrible thing that President Donald Trump reportedly said during an apparently unrecorded discussion Thursday with other prominent politicians about certain nations of the world sending their citizens to this country.

The substance of Trump’s point and the reaction to it are important matters, perhaps for another column.

But here’s another important matter:

When did it become O.K. to use profanities in news stories?

Don’t give me the because-Trump’s-a-racist garbage. You can make the same points you want to make – whether they make sense or not – by simply implying the words that were reportedly said without actually printing every letter. You can also denounce Trump in vehement terms without using what an old-time newspaper editor once called a “barnyard epithet.”

But no, The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The New York Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times, The Dallas Morning News, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Detroit Free Press, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and various other media outlets put the full word out, often repeatedly. So did CNN. So did NPR. In fact, if you read or see or listen to the coverage – and I don’t recommend that – these news outlets seem to revel in it.

We know from endless books and magazine articles and personal reminiscences that many presidents have used this sort of language in conversation. Lyndon Johnson may go down as the most vulgar, but he certainly has lots of company.

That’s beside the point. Bad language can be implied without being slavishly reproduced.

Why does it matter?

Well, children are listening and reading, of course. But so is the rest of the public. When profanity is endorsed – and that’s what reproducing it amounts to – we all lose. The language coarsens, and so does our culture.

New Boston Post’s policy is to imply profanity (if necessary) in text without stating it. If we publish audio that has profanity – which we do only when we think it’s necessary — we give readers a bad-language warning so they can avoid it if they want.

But there’s no avoiding those headlines and email subject lines all over the place.

We are suffering from a vulgarity glut. There may be cases where vulgarity is called for – maybe — but if so it’s surely a tiny fraction of the amount it’s used nowadays. Vulgarity has become a lazy way to emphasize for effect. You can always tell a lazy comedian, for instance. He swears a lot.

For those who think the war on profanity is long over – it isn’t, as long as some people keep fighting.

Once, we were a country where some people used vulgar words in private but almost nobody used them publicly or even in mixed company.

Now, you could get the impression that we’re a country where everyone uses vulgar words both in private and in public.

But that’s not so. I don’t. Perhaps you don’t, either. Or perhaps if you do, you’ll consider stopping.

The war isn’t over until everybody surrenders.

No surrender.


Matt McDonald is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of New Boston Post. See other articles by him here.