The usually-over-my-head Language Log — an indispensable resource if you find linguistics fascinating but would prefer not to run into Khmer Rouge apologias — has a very amusing post discussing how the New York Times grew curiously coy about spelling out the term "wanksta," a marvelous word combining "wanker" and "gangsta" to denote a gangsta-rapper-poseur. The article also reveals a remarkably stupid policy that I had heard of but had assumed was satire at the expense of the Times:
Last November, the name of the punk band "Fucked Up" ended up rendered in a Times concert review as a string of eight asterisks, with some oblique talk about how the name wasn't fit to print in the Times, "unless an American president, or someone similar, says it by mistake."
This is a jumble of idiocy. First, If decorum prevents printing of a word unless it is sufficiently newsworthy, by what measure is a presidential didn't-know-the-mike-was-on at the pinnacle of newsworthiness? Why is that more newsworthy than, say, a pretentious rock star (a wankster-songwriter?) dropping the f-bomb during an awards show? Second, as for wankitude, Language Log suggests that the Times — after years of printing the word wanksta — might have finally clued in to the notion that it derives from the British "wanker," referring (taken literally) to one who masturbates. If true, that makes the Times even more slow on the uptake than our friends on the Right would have us believe. Besides, all the Brits I know use wanker far more widely than that, throwing it around to denote a person dwelling somewhere in the interpersonal Bermuda triangle between asshole, twerp, and moron. In other words, its popular usage is non-sexual. (In that manner it is similar to the word motherfucker, which by meretricious overuse has lost its original Oedipal shock, and now is really just "jerk" turned up past "asshole" by a couple of notches.) Does the Times refuse to print references to someone being called a schmuck?
Last 5 posts by Ken White
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