Sunday, October 19, 2003

The S--- Conundrum

The Testy Copy Editors debated it. Will posted about it.

And now I weigh in. Yes folks, time for another enlightening contribution to the “suck” debate, brought to you by Emmanuel’s Steak House, where the steak tastes great and the service doesn’t blow.

Anyway. I know that “suck” offended delicate sensibilities back in the Pleistocene. I know that it (gasp!) tangentially refers to oral sex. I know that adolescents (double gasp!) once used it to cast aspersions on others’ masculinity.

Point taken.

Obscene or vulgar terms shouldn’t be used regularly or without thought in a newspaper. Many people read our product, and we do tailor it to them. Littering the pages with George Carlin’s seven favorite words doesn’t solve any problems. It creates a few.

But if someone uses the term in a newsworthy or particularly effective way, use the damn word. This goes for any profanity.

For those of my generation, “suck” is a mild term of derogation, most often used to describe a situation. As in:

This fraternity party sucks.

This six-hour-long Academy Awards telecast sucks.

The word has changed. The world has changed. Change happens. “Suck” does not mean any of the horrific things the elderly among us fear it does. The claim from TCE that it equals “gay” as a putdown is dubious.

I’m a gay guy, and I never thought of “suck” as being a sexual insult. “Gay” certainly has that air. Even if applied negatively to a situation, not a human, “gay” stings. “Sucks” tells the truth.

If the speaker or writer doesn’t mean the word in an offensive way, if the word isn’t read as being offensive, then why do we fret about it? Folks will always find something to be offended about in a daily newspaper. Don’t smother them in the name of decency.

Necessary repetition of earlier point: Don’t use these words often. Don’t use these words often. Don’t suck unless you have to.

This is the Clay test:

1.) Is it in a quote?
If it show up in the text proper, ask why. We shouldn’t have the newspaper’s voice using such language often.

2.) Is it newsworthy?
President Bush calling a reporter from The New York Times an “asshole” was a story. The word should be printed in such cases.

3.) Are we merely printing it to shock?
If so, take it out.

If it makes the story better, if it helps the reader understand the story, use the word. Come on. Do it. I dare you.