Errors & Omissions: How do you like your swear words – with or without asterisks?

 

How do you feel about bad language and asterisks? In its early years this newspaper took a very robust, even puritanical, attitude. It believed that its readers were the kind of people who didn't have net curtains in their windows and wanted the unvarnished truth.

So the rule was, don't print a swear word unless it is important for the reader to know what somebody actually said; but if it is, then print the word: no asterisks.

With the passage of years and the succession of editors, this attitude has softened somewhat. The case for asterisks – that people want information but don't want a slap in the face at the breakfast table – has gained ground.

I think we perhaps need to look again at the whole question, at least in the interests of consistency. Clive Goozee has written in to draw attention to an anomaly in an interview, published on Thursday, with the outspoken Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy.

In the fourth paragraph, we quoted her as saying "I'm really p****d off." But in the second last paragraph came this: "There is no fucking way they are going to keep me away from my country of birth."

It looks as if somebody's eye was drawn to "pissed" but failed, farther down the piece, to register what is by anybody's standards a more shocking word. To print "fucking" without a qualm but to call for the smelling salts at the sight of "pissed" looks odd.

Just a few points: punctuation can be a nightmare. Consider this, from an interview with Andrew Lansley, published on Monday:

He said he took some advice from Ken Clarke who, as Health Secretary in the 1980s, was the subject of similar attacks. "Sometimes he'd say in Cabinet, 'blimey, you're getting it pretty easy. The doctors put my picture on billboards saying what do you call a man who doesn't take medical advice'."

That is a mess. Simply putting the quotation marks and capital letters right produces this:

He said he took some advice from Ken Clarke, who, as Health Secretary in the 1980s, was the subject of similar attacks. "Sometimes he'd say in Cabinet, 'Blimey, you're getting it pretty easy. The doctors put my picture on billboards saying, "What do you call a man who doesn't take medical advice?" ' "

That is technically correct, but the three quotations, each enfolding the next, like Russian dolls, are still a challenge for the reader, especially at the end, when one single and two double quotation marks drop in one after the other. However, there is a way forward. The outermost doll can be turned into reported speech and the innermost, being the slogan on a poster, can be put into italics. This is the result:

He said he took some advice from Ken Clarke, who, as Health Secretary in the 1980s, was the subject of similar attacks. Lansley reports that Clarke would sometimes say in Cabinet: "Blimey, you're getting it pretty easy. The doctors put my picture on billboards saying, What do you call a man who doesn't take medical advice? "

I think that is all right.

East is west: Bernard Theobald writes in to point out this, from a news story published last Saturday: "The remaining area in drought is south and west of a line from Lincolnshire to Sussex, taking in Oxfordshire, where hosepipe bans imposed by seven water companies remain in place."

Sub-editors should always take the trouble to imagine what the copy is describing. If you do that in this case you realise that "west" should be "east".

Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Karen Dunbar performs
Entertainers showcase local wit, talent and irrepressible spirit
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

BI Manager - £50,000

£49000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

BI Project Manager - £48,000 - £54,000 - Midlands

£48000 - £54000 per annum + Benefits package: Progressive Recruitment: My clie...

VB.Net Developer

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game