New York Times and Wall Street Journal ease profanity restrictions

Don’t send a press release that’s nothing but expletives, though. The policy is still to avoid vulgarity when possible.


The New York Times is easing up on its policies surrounding publishing profanity. Journalists and editors have often had to go to great lengths to try to mask or write around curse words and otherwise vulgar phrases. Times op-ed contributor Jesse Sheidlower admits in a recent essay that “society’s comfort level with offensive language and content has drastically shifted over the past few decades, but the stance of our news media has barely changed at all.” It comes at an opportune time—just months after the paper revised its policy on obscenity and vulgarity:

If the precise nature of an obscenity, vulgarity or other offensive expression is essential to the reader’s understanding of a newsworthy event — not merely to convey color or emotion — editors should consider using the term or a close paraphrase.

Eric Levenson of The Wire notes that the Times isn’t alone. The Wall Street Journal has eased its rules on using obscenities as well.

Before you get too excited, the Times isn’t getting too nuts with it. The style guide also advises:

Instead, in most cases, offer a general description: a vulgar expression; a crude epithet; a vulgar sexual term. If more specificity is needed for comprehension, use a straightforward description or paraphrase: He used a crude term in place of “stuff”; She uttered a vulgar equivalent for “nonsense”; He used an offensive term for female genitalia.

I don’t know about you, but I think this decision is (insert vulgar adjective that rhymes with ducking) smart. (Image via)

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