I have a confession I am a little nervous of making, given the extreme reactions we get to this subject: I don’t do crosswords.
I know, I know. I’m surrounded by people who do. Many i sub-editors (who write headlines and check all our copy) are puzzle fiends, but I never caught the bug. Perhaps it’s the day job, but I am normally snoring like Amol Rajan when I get to 3 Across.
However, having edited several newspapers, I do understand how much crossword lovers* (15 letters) care. It’s all too clear when a gremlin strikes! In i on Saturday (27 August) we inadvertently stirred a hornet’s nest.
Number 4 Across in Concise Crossword No 234 was “Drunk (Slang)” (6 letters). The answer of course is “pissed”, which upset some readers who accused us of descending into the gutter. In turn, many more readers were “pissed” (American usage,meaning annoyed) with the complainants, arguing a) “pissed” was a dictionary term and b) it’s now an everyday, tame word.
While a) is certainly true, b) depends largely on age. Some words (“bloody” is another) used to have an ability to cause offence that has dissipated. Others, i chooses (unlike our sister paper The Independent) to star out – although everyone knows which letters the stars mask. There has been much recently about words entering (“retweet”) and leaving (“charabanc”) the dictionary. Only yesterday, my daughters taught me “reem”, meaning gorgeous. Like it or not, today’s urbandictionary.com is tomorrow’s OED.
On balance, in 2011, I don’t think “pissed’ is offensive in the context of a crossword clue. Nevertheless, it is not i’s intention to offend, and we apologise to any upset *cruciverbalists.