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“I hate all sports as rabidly as a person who likes sports hates commonsense”


Today’s post isn’t really about flubs and cock-ups, but is relevant because it does relate to the way that words are bunged into print. The subject of today’s sermon is swearing.

Now, I have as salty a tongue as most men – and even, to my shame, one or two women. I do, however, try to deploy my oaths and profanities with style and imagination. Swearing has to count, and not be used as mere punctuation. If it doesn’t reinforce what you’re saying, it is just pointless wind.

I’m surprised that journalists seem to believe that the banal utterances of sportsmen and artists are so sacrosanct that they have to be rendered with complete accuracy. Nevertheless, the fruitier words must then be carefully asterisked out to protect the delicate sensitivities of their readership of ancient maiden aunties.

There was a particularly fine example of this lunacy in The Times recently. When the rather coarse Mr. Terry of the Chelsea football club was charged with (allegedly) yelling ungentlemanly ‘racist’ remarks on the pitch at Mr. Ferdinand of the Queens Park Rangers club, The Times dutifully reported his (alleged) imprecation as: “You f******g black c***”. Perhaps the editor,  James Harding, was forlornly hoping to retrieve his organ’s lost standing as a paper of record.

Anyway, this struck me as even more than usually hypocritical. The sub-editor had carefully asterisked the two words which are common currency on the pitch, in the crowd and on the street, but had equally carefully printed the single word which was deemed to be unforgivably offensive and deserving of a criminal charge. The readership was expected to be appalled and disgusted by its employment.

You can bet your life that, back in the 40s and 50s, sportsmen were just as painfully inarticulate as they are now. A pound to a penny says that, when interviewed, Dixie Dean, Sir Tom Finney (90 last week) and the rest would lard their penetrating insights (pshaw!) with robust examples of the extreme demotic – while doubtless sucking on a Woodbine and necking a Mackeson. Nobody for a moment believes that they all spoke like Dixon of Dock Green. Jimmy Greaves has said, “The thing about sport, any sport, is that swearing is very much part of it”.

The expletives did not make it to the printed page, though, and not simply because it was a gentler and more civil time. The journalists didn’t want to undermine or belittle them by showing their feet of clay. The genteel people who bought papers didn’t want or need to read their gruntings verbatim, complete with redundant objurgations. The swear-words didn’t add anything to the analysis, and would not have enhanced the reputations of the sporting ‘heroes’.

Since we’re on the subject, what is the point of laboriously typing out all the sweary bits in a blog, Usenet or Facebook post? Giving mere voice to your obloquies in conversation takes no effort; a puff of wind and it’s gone. Why does anyone go to the bother of picking out the individual letters on a keyboard? It’s just a criminal waste of innocent electrons.

And the epigraph?  Good old H. L. Mencken, one of the wisest of men.


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