The New York Times Disapproves of Getting Laid

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There is a two part series on this topic over at the Language Log.   The first is titled:

No getting laid in the NYT

and compares this passage from the NYT:

“We created the prepaid RushCard,”Simmons says in [an ad],”so everyone will have access to the American dream.”That sounds a little bland for someone with Simmons’s brand-building panache, but recently, in The Economist, Simmons gave his pitch a bit more zing by suggesting (in terms that can only be paraphrased here) that the card has aphrodisiac properties.

The point he was making, however earthily, was that plastic and status are intertwined in contemporary America.

with this passage, covering the same terrain, from The Economist:

The ad is intended for the BET television channel, with a mainly African-American audience, but Mr Simmons says he does not want it to imply that black people are the only poor people in America, or, indeed, that the user is poor at all.”This card is meant to get people laid, get them feeling dignity,”he says.

Arnold Zwicky, author of the post, attributes this to “modesty” on the part of the NYT, and follows up with a much longer post entitled:

Getting laid in the NYT (part 2)

where he writes:

.. [I’m assuming the Economist quoted Simmons accurately : mostly because in the context get laid would be hard to replace by something staider (score, get some, and get lucky would be rough equivalents, but no less colloquial). This is not the place for an essay on ways of talking about sexual connection, but the fact is that different expressions are hardly ever equivalent in context, so that paraphrase really doesn’t work. (The re-wording with aphrodisiac is especially lame.) Of course, it’s always possible that what Simmons said originally was not “get laid”, but something like “get some pussy”, and the Economist cleaned things up a bit. But if so, the Times writer wouldn’t have known about that.] …

… All of this dodging about is supposed to be in the name of protecting children (though some of it is probably a way of avoiding fines or lawsuits or just objections, which are in turn usually justified as a way of protecting children). The Times occasionally trots out the defense that it is a “family newspaper”, but it’s hard to take that seriously as a characterization of a publication that has no cartoons, no personal-advice columns (like “Ann Landers” or “Dear Abby”), no puzzles for kids, no horoscope, and almost no celebunews. But the Times doesn’t shy away from topics that many people would prefer to shield children from : rape, torture, sexual slavery, suicide, hate crimes, child abuse, serial killings, mass murder, and much more : or even from stories on “intimate” sexual topics, so long as they are treated in neutral language : teenage pregnancy, extramarital sex, oral sex, contraception, abortion, pornography, infertility, erectile disfunction, homosexuality, and so on. Nor should it.

No one should imagine that any children who happen to be reading the Times are being shielded from unpleasant realities and intimate matters. They’re being shielded from bits of language : granted, bits of language, some of which are widely considered to be infused with bad magic. Still, it’s hard to see how things like get laid and porno got pulled into this dark orbit.

You should read the whole thing here.   I’m not sure I agree with Zwicky that the reason some words are used and others are not is to protect children. I think the NYT sends signals about power and privilege when it will accurately quote some people in its pages, but only paraphrase others.   Note who the people that the NYT thinks require editing and translation.

–Ann Bartow

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