The Gray Lady gets coy again

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Dave Itzkoff, "Putting Away His Toys", NYT 4/17/2013:

The lesson he learned about Mr. Bay, he said, was that “behind the intensity and, oftentimes, the complications of getting” things (Mr. Johnson used a different word) “done in an efficient way is a very insightful guy.”

This seems, not for the first time, directly contradictory to that newspaper's policy on "coarse" vocabulary:

Discussion about an expletive does not end with the decision against using it. The Times also forgoes offensive or coy hints. An article should not seem to be saying, “Look, I want to use this word, but they won’t let me.”

Over the years, we've discussed the NYT's creative avoidance of "obscene words" a surprisingly large number of times:

"No fuckin' winking at the Times", 8/17/2005;
[Expletive discussed]", 7/1/2005;
Words that can't be printed in the NYT", 6/5/2006;
Taking shit from the president", 7/16/2006;
Further annals of taboo avoidance", 10/4/2006;
The NYT transgresses", 8/23/2007;
Music Review: ********", 11/13/2007;
Times bowdlerizes column on Times bowdlerization", 7/12/2008;
"No getting laid in the NYT", 11/12/2008;
"Getting laid in the NYT (part 2)", 11/22/2008;
Annals of Bowdlerization: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot", 12/6/2009;
The language of 'Mad Men' and the perils of self-expurgation", 7/22/2010;
Annals of [having sex] [feces]", 8/7/2010;
"Larkin v. the Gray lady", 4/16/2012


  1. rgove said,

    April 21, 2013 @ 8:09 pm

    "that newspaper's policy on "coarse" vocabulary" is a broken link.

  2. blahedo said,

    April 21, 2013 @ 8:32 pm

    I wonder how far the policy goes: if writing "the complications of getting [things] done" would be too much of a "coy" hint—it would seem to be the perfect solution, actually, since the naive reader could easily assume that the bracketed word replaced a misspoken or mumbled word, while the rest of us know exactly what was said (well, probably) without particularly drawing attention to it. If even that's too much, then some people simply can't be quoted in any form in the NYT, I guess.

  3. Ben Zimmer said,

    April 21, 2013 @ 10:33 pm

    Over on his personal blog, Arnold Zwicky discusses another peculiar case of Timesian taboo avoidance: "pudendum boy."

  4. Jerry Friedman said,

    April 21, 2013 @ 11:34 pm

    It looks particularly like "I wanted to use this word" because the reporter could have paraphrased the quotation. "According to Mr. Johnson, behind Mr. Bay's intensity and efficiency in getting things done despite frequent complications is 'a very insightful guy.'"

    Suggestion for next time: "getting things" (the word Mr. Johnson used was not this but an anagram for this) "done". Also, "stuff" is a better choice than "things".

  5. KeithB said,

    April 22, 2013 @ 10:08 am

    The NYT has also played it coy with the word "torture"

  6. Chandra said,

    April 22, 2013 @ 4:22 pm

    Ugh. Could they have possibly chosen a worse circumlocution? Who decided that the best solution would be a parenthetical aside within an interrupted direct quote that was already a bit syntactically complex? I doubt there are many readers who could get through that mess without having to backtrack at least once or twice.

  7. Rubrick said,

    April 22, 2013 @ 4:59 pm

    I read that article, noticed and got confused by the ridiculous circumlocution, wondered if it would get mentioned in Language Log, and then wondered why in the world I was reading an article about Michael Bay.

  8. McLemore said,

    April 24, 2013 @ 10:13 am


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