The New York Times quietly loosened its strict standards on profanities last year in an update of its style guide, but there are still people who would like to see the stuffy old newspapers of yesterday relax a little bit more.
"As part of an overall updating of our stylebook last year, we did revise our entry on obscenity and vulgarity," associate managing editor for standards Phil Corbett explained to The Wire in an email. "The new version allows for a wider range of exceptions in cases where an offensive term is central to a news story." Part of the updated style guide now reads as follows:
If the precise nature of an obscenity, vulgarity or other offensive expression is essential to the reader’s understanding of a newsworthy event — not merely to convey color or emotion — editors should consider using the term or a close paraphrase.
Note that the update says that a profanity that is deemed essential need only be considered or paraphrased. They are not necessarily included, even if they are central to the story. There are still some words that are too hot for the Gray Lady.
Because of those rules, The Times has sometimes resorted to wordplay that confuses more often than it helps. In late January, for example, The Wire's own Allie Jones examined the many, many ways The Times has avoided writing "vagina" or "pubic hair" over the years. Some of the approved solutions — "once-neglected hinterland of female beauty," for example — created more questions than they answered.