During the copy-editing process, I was urged to spell everything out, or, conversely, spell nothing out. (I stuck with my original style.) Never, of course, was I urged not to use the profanities in the first place. That's not our world.
But do we like it that way, really? I was reminded of this question on reading about a gathering of girls -- wealthy, Upper-East-Side-of-Manhattan 12- and 13-year-olds -- orchestrated by The New York Times to document the youngsters' reactions to a rancid new TV show called "Gossip Girl," which chronicles the sex- and drug-obsessed lives of spoiled teens. I don't think the show uses profanity, but it certainly features profane behavior. For example: Boys in blazers smoke marijuana and talk about sampling their fathers' Viagra. The martini-swilling teen heroine engages in "smoldering" sex scenes with her best friend's boyfriend. Yuck.
Not that these young flowers of American privilege blushed. Projecting a sometimes gigglesome ennui, they explained how closely the show tracks their little world. (Sometimes it's wonderful not to be able to afford $28,000 tuition.) You have to wonder about their parents, who not only groomed the girls to be consumers of such smut, but also made them available to go on the record about it. There was something sad about the brazen, pointlessness of it all.
Long ago, Hemingway wrote to Perkins that "it is good for the language to restore its life that they (censors) bleed out of it. That is very important." And maybe it was -- although personally, I've never felt cheated by the constraints your basic Dickenses and Tolstoys and, reluctantly, Hemingway operated under. But if it was necessary to restore vigor to the language then, what do we do now, when the life it too often describes -- unremarkably profane, unnoticeably shameless -- no longer has much meaning?
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