Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A star is porn

As a Times writer, I am used to being starstruck. By which I mean that I am used to any rude words I use being struck out by the sub-editors and replaced with stars.

There is always a chance that our readers could be offended by an unasterisked fuck (I hope none of this blog's readers are so timid) and so out of respect for them - and to avoid having to deal with their letters of complaint - we bowdlerise the rudeness.

This is a practice that we can blame on the hyper-sensitive Victorians, whose less-than-literal but purer-than-pure translations of the naughty bits in classical literature perplexed me as a student.

For instance, our school library version of Catullus translated the first line of Poem XVI as "Nuts to you, boys, nuts and go to Hell". It was a couple of years before I realised that "pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo" is more to do with promising anal and oral sex.

Even so, I was surprised to read a comment piece by Alice Thomson today that had the word "tossers" censored. I think it was tossers, anyway. The word, in a quote, appeared as t****rs.

This seemed unnecessarily cautious. Not least because the final word of her piece is "buggers", printed without any expurgation. I don't understand why tossers needs asterisking but buggers doesn't.

[Another classical digression: whenever I see the word "tosser", I think back to a Greek lesson at school where we were translating Herodotus's history of the Persian Wars. Referring to a parent of Xerxes, our teacher read out: "The queen-mother was Atossa..." The class soon disintegrated into uncontrollable teenaged giggling.]

On a related matter, I was confused when our paper last week asterisked "t****", with four stars. I tried to think what word could be concealed. Was it, perhaps, "twunt", an all-too-rarely-used portmanteau of two words that definitely would need the stars treatment on their own.

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