Banning the F-Word

fredericksburgdotcomI believe that certain words should be off limits (at least to some people). To my taste, “faggot” is one of those words. When used against a man who has sex with men, I believe it’s equivalent to the N-word. In this context, I’ll refer to it as the F-word (although we all know what most people think of when the phrase “F-word” is used).

An editor’s note resulting from a letter to the editor published on June 5 on fredericksburg.com (the website of the Free Lance-Star) makes my case.

A reader wrote in to complain about an editorial on hate crimes legislation:

“Hate-crime laws have their purpose. The May 18 editorial titled ‘Hate or not’ missed the point. The assault on the Constitution lies in the fact that hate crimes engender reactions in people’s minds. A reaction to a lynching in the black community needs to be expressed, thus a result of freedom of speech, not an assault on it.

“Until recently, the Free Lance-Star‘s website censored the N-word or a typical epithet against women, but not the word ‘faggot.’ To say gay people don’t get bashed culturally is foolhardy.”

Here’s the editor’s note:

“Editor’s note: As a result of this letter, the offensive word mentioned has also been banned on fredericksburg.com.”

Let’s set aside the argument over banning words in general. If the editors decided the N-word was worth banning from their publication, then I think they made the right decision in banning the F-word. In this instance, it was the fair thing to do.

One Response

  1. Belatedly responding to this post …

    As stylebook editor at The Chron, I have dealt with this issue on and off for years, and my take is probably a little different than some others. When we came up with the list of banned/dashed-out words, we had two overriding rules:
    1. The word had to be so offensive that it would alienate many of our readers.
    2. If printed out in a dashed-out version, the meaning had to be clear.
    (And it should also be pointed out that we’d only print an obscenity — even dashed out — if its use was “essential to the story” and a high-ranking editor OKd the use.)

    For that reason, I’ve always been opposed to dashing out the word faggot. (Our original rule also didn’t dash out “the N-word.”)

    Context will usually make the meaning clear, but not always. In the sentence “I hated the little f–” which epithet was invoked?

    In any case, rather than adding a new dashed-out word, my preference is to write around it so as to make the meaning clear. “He yelled homophobic slurs at the passer-by” probably makes the point as well as printing faggot or f–.

    Just my $0.02.

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