i Editor's Letter: Is there any point to asterisks?


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The Independent Online


Fleet Street newsrooms do not have swear boxes, or some journalists would go home in the evening poorer than when they arrived. i’s editorial floor is, of course, genteel, punctuated by the occasional vulgarity directed at a computer. So why do we bother to asterisk swear words in the paper?

“Is there any point,” asks Andrew Brown of Minehead, “in publishing f****, s**t and a*** when anybody reading knows exactly what the word is?” Idris Charles writes similarly: “I am, in the main, very happy with i. My one gripe is your insistence on censoring some words. Why not print them in full or avoid using them?”

After emailing Mr Charles back to tell him to go **** ******* (just kidding, Idris) I reconsidered our policy. Because like Mssrs Charles and Brown – and Charlotte Brontë, who thought hinting at expletives “weak and futile... I cannot tell what good it does...what horror it conceals” – I have a fairly robust constitution.

Asterisking swear words risks patronising, being needlessly coy, confusing the reader. How might one distinguish between b******* and b*******, or report Silvio Berlusconi’s attack on Angela Merkel as an unf***able lard-a***?

The policy at our sister title, The Independent, is that if the use of an obscenity is editorially justified, it should be written in full. But like so many other aspects of i, the asterisking has evolved in response to your letters. i readers range from age eight to centenarians. You are a joyfully broad church from all walks of life and areas of the country. Some of you prefer not to stumble across profanities during your morning briefing. We also have a sizeable readership in schools, and while we don’t have any illusions about playground language, we steer clear of emulating it in these pages.

Life can be crude, obscene, and we don’t sugarcoat our reporting. But we also try to avoid causing unnecessary offence. The asterisks stay.


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