Anything goes these days when it comes to online journalism, partly because so much of what passes for news is opinion posted by untrained non-professionals, but also partly because times have changed.
Just not The Times. Though a recently posted Medium story concerned The New York Times, it’s doubtful that the beacon of the news-gathering profession would run the headline “A Brief History of ‘Fuck’ in The New York Times.” But there it is, casually screaming at you with the subhead “Also fucked, fucking, fucker, motherfucker, and Airbnfuckingbs.”
As Updike fans might imagine, the author who helped push the boundaries of acceptability in literary fiction and poetry factors into the discussion. But he wasn’t the first to slip a naughty word past Times editors.
“As it turns out, a majority of the Times’ fucks over the years have slipped in by means of book excerpts, mostly novels—including what appears to be the first, in 1984, from John Irving’s A Widow for One Year: ‘Yet not even then would he regret having fucked Ruth’s mother.’ According to my archival search, the second fuck didn’t appear for another 13 years, until 1997—a John Updike character recalling that when he was ‘courting’ his wife he’d been ‘attracted to her way of saying “fuck” instead of a softer expression.’ The third appearance, in 1998, is the first figurative use—funny, given that it’s from the special prosecutor’s report on President Clinton’s sex scandal, Monica Lewinsky recorded saying she wished he would ‘acknowledge . . . that he helped fuck up my life.'”
Writer Kurt Andersen did not say what naughty word(s) he intends to search next.