[lg policy] US media loses battle against airing dirty word

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Mon Jan 15 10:23:45 EST 2018

 `Shithole’: US media loses battle against airing dirty word
1 day ago
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[image: U.S. President Donald Trump]U.S. President Donald Trump

US broadcasters and newspapers faced a challenge this week in reporting on
President Donald Trump’s alleged use of the word “shithole.”

Some television anchors went to lengths to avoid it to uphold their bans on
vulgar language, shortening it to “s-hole,” for example, while some
newspapers replaced letters of the offensive word with asterisks, leaving
readers to use their imaginations.

Little was needed to figure it out. The word was everywhere on social
media, which brought several US news outlets to the conclusion that it was
futile to try to cover it up, though some painfully tried with comic effect.

CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer did his best verbal gymnastics to get around it. In
a mashup compiled by the Daily Show, Blitzer’s discomfort is clear.

“The president said quote, ‘Why do we want all these people from – I won’t
use the word – s-hole countries,'” an exasperated Blitzer said. He then
tried “bleep-hole” before finally throwing up his hands, saying “You get
the point.”

MSNBC initially used asterisks, then changed to “shithole,” while Fox News
wrote “s—hole” from the start on its website and mostly stuck with that

Other broadcasters warned listeners before letting the expletive on air.

An editor’s note on a story at National Public Radio’s website
painstakingly explained: “NPR has decided in this case to spell out the
vulgar word that the president reportedly used because it meets our
standard for use of offensive language.”

Its policy allows such language when it is “absolutely integral to the
meaning and spirit of the story being told,” it continued.

The actual policy goes into more detail, noting the Federal Communications
Commission attempt to punish a broadcaster that failed to censor Janet
Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction,” which exposed her nipple, during her 2004
Superbowl half-time performance.

Regulators have taken a much more aggressive line on what they regard as
indecent or profane content, NPR’s policy warns.

Traditional print media had an easier time, presumably because they don’t
have to worry about young children inadvertently hearing a vulgarity.

Some tried the middle-of-the-road solution of only partially printing the
word, but most major newspapers like the Washington Post and the New York
Times parted with tradition and used it in full from their first story.

Some media critics pointed out that when such language is vital to the
essence of the story – as it was in this case – excising it in print or
bleeping it in broadcast would lessen its meaning.

A blog on swearing found all this refreshing, saying it wasn’t notable
because Trump said it, it was “notable because it made it into newspapers –
several of them, even! – unexpurgated.”

If there is one thing that makes most lexicographers “gasp in delight” it
is when a well-respected newspaper prints the word shithole, the Strong
Language blog said.

The blog also pointed out that journalists writing other languages faced
the challenge of translating “shithole” effectively. Aside from being a
vulgarity, this use of the word is non-literal.

While it originally referred to an anus, since the 1930s it has referred to
a godforsaken hole-in-the-ground or an undesirable place, the blog said.

Any foreign journalist who missed that nuance could have created a serious
translation faux pas.

German media translated the word to “Drecksloch,” using “Dreck,” meaning
“dirt” (and in some cases “shit”) instead of the more common “Scheisse,”
meaning shit, which is used without compunction in German print media and

Editors chose “Drecksloch” in this case because it is a commonly used word,
while “Scheißloch” is not.

All media have learned since Trump entered politics that it’s harder to
remain free of profanity, a fact borne out even before the election by his
“grab ’em by the pussy” comment.

Now standards have shifted a notch further to where a president’s choice of
the word “shithole” can be both printed and reported on air.(dpa/NAN)


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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