Asterisks

Ocado gave me their customary free copy of the Times this weekend. I like the Times, and would probably buy it over – or as well as – the Guardian, if only it weren’t owned by that awful little man.

But reading an article on The Thick of It reminded me that the Guardian is still the only paper with a grown-up attitude towards swearing. When you’re printing long quotes from the script, asterisking out every other word renders it almost unreadable and stamps heavily on any humour that might have once lurked in the lines.

It also introduces an ambiguity about what was actually said, which in some cases makes it sound worse than it really is. The missing c-word in the quote below is actually “cock”, but the asterisk version allows the reader to infer an alternative which is much more unpleasant and a lot less funny:

“I will remove your iPod from its tiny nano-sheath, and push it up your c***. And then I’ll put some speakers up your a*** and put it on to ‘shuffle’ with my f****** fist…”

Thus the Times’s attempt at protecting our delicate sensibilities actually makes the joke more offensive. I would also hazard a guess that anyone interested in a piece about The Thick Of It can probably cope with a few swears.

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