Adrian Bailey passes along an interesting bit of editorial excision that appeared in a Washington Post article about Craig "Lazie" Lynch, who recently escaped from a prison
outside of in Suffolk, England. Lynch has been leaving taunting messages on his Facebook page. The Post quotes Lynch as follows:
"I had a funny feelin that my door was going to come off this mornin," he wrote in one smug post guaranteed to torque law enforcement officials everywhere. "Then I remembered the [police] are thick as [dung]. And went back to sleep."
The bracketed terms "police" and "dung" have been inserted into the quote for different reasons. Here is what was in the original Facebook post, according to The Mirror:
Good 'mornin' everyone. I had a funny feelin that my door was going to come off this 'mornin'. Then I remembered the old bill are thick as shit. And went back to sleep.
So the first substitution by the Post was explanatory, since American readers wouldn't be expected to recognize "the old Bill" as slang for "the police." London's Metropolitan Police website has a whole page devoted to theories on the origin of (the) old Bill, and the latest OED draft entry provides this etymological note:
The character of Old Bill was created by the British cartoonist Bruce Bairnsfather (1888-1959) and appeared in issues of Bystander from 1915 onwards.
The origin of sense 2 is uncertain. It may have arisen from subsequent use of the cartoon character, depicted in police uniform, on posters in a Metropolitan Police recruitment campaign of 1917, and later during the Second World War (1939-45) giving advice on wartime security. Among other explanations that have been suggested are that it is from the association of police officers prior to the Second World War with ‘Old Bill’ moustaches; from the ‘bill’ (BILL n.1 2b, also BILLY n.2 1b) used as a weapon by 18th-cent. constables; or from the registration letters BYL originally used on cars belonging to the Flying Squad.
The OED has citations for sense 2a ('a police officer') from 1958 and sense 2b ('The police force; police officers collectively, freq. with the') from 1970.
The second expurgation is of the bowdlerizing variety, replacing "shit" with "[dung]." It's an odd substitution — more typically we would see something like "s***" (as indeed the Mirror printed it). But perhaps the first substitution, "[police]" for "old bill," encouraged the Post editors to follow suit by using a polite synonym for shit.
Without having seen the original text, however, one wouldn't know that the edits have different motivations. That might lead to some head-scratching among readers, wondering if the original word behind "[police]" might be some sort of obscenity, rather than British slang opaque to Americans. It's yet another interpretive pitfall in taboo avoidance strategies of the newsroom.