Watershed Moments: Donald Trump, Rakeyia Scott, and the Times

The following is a guest post by Blake Eskin, an editor and writer who has kept track of expletive avoidance by the New York Times, with his Tumblr Fit to Print and the #fittoprint hashtag on Twitter.

Ben Zimmer called the dissemination of Donald Trump’s recorded conversation with Billy Bush a “watershed moment in public profanity,” since major news outlets such as CNN and the New York Times presented Trump’s remarks without bowdlerization. Even Times subscribers who avoid the internet and cable news had to confront the words “pussy” and “fuck” on Page One, above the fold and before the jump, on their way to the Saturday crossword.

Let’s compare this with how the Times handled the death of Keith Scott two weeks earlier.

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A banner day for profanity

It’s safe to say that October 7, 2016 will go down in history as a watershed moment in public profanity. On this day, a recording emerged of the Republican nominee for president saying utterly reprehensible things about women, featuring no fewer than four taboo words: pussy, fuck, bitch, and tits. (His interlocutor threw in one more: shit.) And major news outlets had to decide whether they should transcribe the quotes verbatim, in some cases setting new precedents in how they handle such vocabulary.

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Four Femmes on the Thames: ‘Woman up and grow a twat!’

The Four Femmes on the Thames are a cabaret-style group who specialise in old-style jazz and swing music with a comedy twist. Their song ‘Woman Up’ was described by Holly Brockwell at Gadgette as the sweary feminist anthem of the year. I’m sure you can see the Strong Language angle (and appeal) already.

The title, if you’re wondering, inverts the sexist idiom man up, and instead of grow a pair the Femmes suggest that people grow a twat, recalling a quip (‘Grow a vagina – those things can take a pounding’) often misattributed to Betty White. The song is a 3-minute NSFW delight; lyrics and more below the fold:

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“A feline profanity”: Part 1

Pity the poor media-standards editor in this sweary era. One can only imagine, for example, the wringing of hands and gnawing of blue pencils last month when, at a mass rally, the short-fingered vulgarian and U.S. presidential candidate Donald J. Trump repeated a supporter’s accusation that Trump’s rival Ted Cruz was “a pussy.”

Yes, the word was undiplomatic. And provocative. But was it newsworthy? Was it printable? And what did it signify?

(Beginning at 1:08)

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