What Keeps The New York Times Curse-Free? Editors' Moms

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New York Times National Editor Sam Sifton gave media blogger Jim Romenesko a fun insight into the paper of record's long-standing and ever-shifting policies regarding when and how to use profanity. What prompted Romenesko to talk with Sifton was an article in Thursday's paper by Manny Fernandez about Jerry Patterson, a colorful Texas politician whose salty use of "screw you" (oh, my!) was changed to "a PG-rated expletive" in the paper. Fast Company's Jason Feifer wrote Romensko to complain that this seemed frivolous and inconsistent -- if you admit it's "PG," why not say it? -- and Sifton responded, defending the decision:

If the penalty for that is a letter of protest from Jason Feifer, that's okay by me. It beats hearing from my mom, which if we'd gone the other way would have happened for sure.

So that's what has kept The Times chaste all these years: Mombudsmen! We like the idea of Sam Sifton sitting at his desk with his mother looking stern in angel robes on one shoulder and the rest of us dressed in red prodding him with a trident on the other.

We kid, we kid. It's more than disappointed moms. The Times does have real style rules documenting this kind of thing, but to the outsider they often seem nonsensical. Times-watchers like Feifer (and us) could point out a dozen examples when the paper has used more gratuitous and explicit language -- off the top of our heads, the magazine piece on Horace Mann this week used "shit" in a way that seemed avoidable -- but Sifton doesn't give much credit to those of us who point this kind of thing out, noting, "Editors are forever explaining that archives are not precedent. They are sometimes our mistakes, written in stone."

Sure... but there have certainly been a lot of them over the years. We understand the pressures of having a mom as a devoted reader (we've caught some of our own in the comments!), but mom is just one reader, after all. The rest of us can probably handle the occasional "screw you."

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