It goes back to the premise of whether a newspaper should uphold standards in language or simply reflect the increasing coarseness of much of the language used today.
It seems as if the Kansas City Star has decided to go the low route, according to a recent story where it referred to a squirrel as “pissed off.”
Merriam Webster notes the term is “slang, often vulgar.”
“I was offended, however, by your use in quotes of “pissed-off squirrel,” a reader emailed Star Public Editor Derek Donovan recently about a story in the newspaper about an increase in bats.
“I do not like to hear “pissed” in conversation, and I do not want to read “pissed” in my newspaper,” she wrote. “I find it very offensive and do not think that seeing it in print in the newspaper is acceptable. The meaning would be the same if you had used “ticked-off.”
Donovan was clearly on the fence whether the Star should “push the envelope” on coarseness.
“Of course I get her point, which is perfectly reasonable,” Donovan responded. “Although some readers tell me they think The Star should push the envelope more when it comes to this kind of thing, it’s far more common for me to hear from readers who expect the paper and its website to rise above the coarseness of so much of the language we all hear every day.”
Donovan used the shop-worn excuse that it wasn’t the reporter talking about a “pissed off squirrel,” but it was a direct quote from a source. Of course, if the “source” had dropped an F-bomb or used the dreaded “N” word it would have never seen the light of day.
“There’s one complication here, though. The offending “pissed” wasn’t in the reporter’s voice, but was instead part of a direct quote from a source,” said Donovan. “That would then leave two options to avoid using it:
“1. Substitute “ticked,” set apart by parentheses to indicate it isn’t the word the source really used. Most readers will of course read between the lines here.
“2. Simply omit the quote entirely.”
“That’s three different possible outcomes, and I know each will find its own adherents.”