F-word makes it into Canadian editors' language guide

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Mon Aug 15 13:21:45 UTC 2005

F-word makes it into editors' language guide
Canadian Press

TORONTO Not too long ago, it was the word that provoked horrified parents
to wash their children's mouths out with soap. But the vulgarity that
falls somewhere between "fuchsia'' and "fuddle'' in the dictionary has
persevered to earn a grudging public acceptance.

Now the word has earned its way into the newest edition of Canada's
venerable editors' handbook, The Canadian Press Caps and Spelling, which
is being released Monday. Editors pondering how -- or whether -- to
include the expletive can find it right between FTP and Fudgsicle in the
guide, which lists hundreds of words that editors and writers might trip
over because of difficult or offbeat spellings or odd capitalization.

"We found the word was creeping into our news stories on a fairly regular
basis, probably because people are saying it more and more in public, and
various media pick it up on their microphones and recorders,'' said Patti
Tasko, editor of Caps and Spelling. Its entry in the 40th anniversary
edition of the 215-page guide -- the only vulgarity included other than
"damn'' and its variations and s.o.b.  -- In short: avoid it for the most
part. And if it must be used because it adds a valuable news element to a
story, spell it out. No f and three asterisks. No "eff word.'' No
freakings, friggings or firkings either, for that matter.

The addition to Caps of what might well be the English language's
best-known curse word would have been unnecessary 20 years ago because it
just didn't appear in print that often. Now it's routinely listed in
dictionaries along with many of its imaginative variations. It's in movies
that aren't rated R and can be heard regularly in acclaimed TV shows like
The Sopranos and Six Feet Under -- and in Canadian fare like the Trailer
Park Boys.

It's used to convey annoyance, despair, anger, incredulity and lust. It's
a verb, a noun, an adjective, an adverb -- even verbal punctuation. "It's
much more socially acceptable than it used to be,'' says Katherine Barber,
the editor-in-chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. "I hear children
using it a lot. I hear them walking down the street saying it, and I mean
young children who are only nine or 10 years old.  Maybe children that age
have always been running around yelling it, but I don't think so.
Somewhere along the line it has lost some of its power, but that doesn't
mean that it's not still offensive to certain portions of the
population.'' Tasko agrees.

"Daily journalism is very quick to reflect the way people use language,
especially when it comes to slang. There was a time when the expression
`sucks' would have been considered vulgar; now you see it everywhere,''
she said. "But journalists have to remember that many readers consider
such slang offensive, especially in written form. At CP we write for every
reader in Canada, from those who see our news online to those who read it
in a small-town newspaper. Routine vulgarities usually add nothing of
value to a story anyway, so they're not hard to avoid.'' The Globe and
Mail has strict guidelines for all vulgarities. First and foremost, bad
language must not be used gratuitously.

"The fact that it's said does not justify using it,'' said Sylvia Stead,
deputy editor of the Globe. But there are times when a swear word is a big
part of the story. She points to the Pierre Trudeau "fuddle duddle''
scandal of the early '70s and Jack Layton's angry use of the word
"bullshit'' during last year's federal election campaign. Still, she says,
the Globe's policy is to never use vulgarities in a headline or a lead
paragraph regardless of how large a part those words play in the events of
the day.

Language is an ever-evolving beast, however. Today's vulgarities may very
likely be tomorrow's toothless expressions of frustration. Curse words
generally have religious or sexual roots, Barber notes, and society is
much more open about all things sexual and religious since the 1970s.

"We are drawn to things that are taboo. The more taboo they are, the more
we want to use them. So these words lose their shock value over time as
more and more people use them. There will always be new ones waiting in
the wings to replace them, but they too with time will lose their shock
value.'' The word that rhymes with duck is only one of dozens of new or
changed listings in Caps, which is used by thousands of editors in
journalism, public relations, government and business. Many of the new
entries are technology-related, from BlackBerry to Xbox.

As of Monday, CP also switches to N.L. as the abbreviation for
Newfoundland and Labrador, replacing Nfld.


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