Posted by Mary Norris
Nothing is so debilitating to a copy editor as having to lavish care on illiterate tweets laced with obscenities. Last spring, The New Yorker ran Kelefa Sanneh’s piece on Earl Sweatshirt, the young rapper whose mother sent him to reform school in Samoa because he had fallen in with bad companions. After reading the piece seven or eight times, making sure that such immortal lines as “Shit sucks” and “LETS SWAG IT OUT” were rendered exactly as they were in the original, I was so disoriented that I stetted a big-ass mistake at the end. What was the point of making a fuss over a “than” for a “then” in a piece so full of profanity? There should be a detox facility for proofreaders who have undergone this kind of extreme experience.
I did not know at the time that there was an informal contest going on at the magazine to see which writer could get the most instances of “fuck” into print, and that Sanneh was going head to head with David Remnick for the title. (You can’t write about rappers or boxers without quoting a few obscenities.) Ian Frazier gets a very satisfying ratio of profanity to regular speech in the monologues of his Cursing Mommy: “Somebody please tell me I have not lost my stupid goddam fucking drink.” This week, John McPhee writes about his battle to quote sailors saying exactly what sailors say, a battle that he did not win—at least not in The New Yorker of William Shawn or Bob Gottlieb. But he broke new ground in this piece by using “fuck”—as verb, noun, adjective, and interjection—fourteen times in a single paragraph.
It no longer occurs to me to query the use of four-letter words, even when they are used gratuitously, as in “I missed the fucking bus.” I used to be a prude, but now I am a ruined woman. We had a discussion in the copy department a few weeks ago about how to style the euphemism: Shall it be “f”-word, f word, f-word, “F” word, F word, or F-word? I don’t like any of them. Fuck euphemisms. Get on the goddam fucking bus.
This week, a reader who sent in a portfolio of mistakes she had found in the magazine (two out of six were blatant errors, for which we are truly sorry) cited the use of the term “star fucker” in a piece by John Colapinto about the philanthropist Trevor Neilson. She had no objection to the term itself, but wrote in the margin, “Need ‘activating’ hyphen!”
Read more http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2012/06/dropping-the-f-bomb.html#ixzz1zAfsSN4s