March 19, 2005

Another bullshit night in suck city

A little while back, Geoff Pullum ranted, very briefly, about a National Public Radio talk show discussing Harry Frankfurt's book Bullshit, observing that

because of the goddamn Federal Communications Commission, no one was at any time during the hour permitted to mention the name or the topic of the book.

Then there's self-editing.  Back on 9/22/04, I reported to ADS-L on how the New York Times dealt with this troublesome word.  The short answer: not very well.  Coyly, in fact.

[I regularize the capitalization etc. of the original.]

The NYT Book Review of 9/19/04 (p. 18) had to cope with the title of Nick Flynn's Another Bullshit Night in Suck City: A Memoir, and opted for two kinds of ellipsis:

    Another Bull _ _ _ _ Night . . .

I didn't understand the second ellipsis, taking the ellipsis dots to be part of the title.  But a Google search showed me my error.

Vendela Vida's review begins by addressing the issue of the title:

It takes guts to give a book a title that many publications, including this one, can't print in its entirety.  The title of Nick Flynn's book gives the (not wholly inaccurate) impression that it's the memoir of a 20-something urbanite, and no doubt it will lure a young -- and fortunate -- audience.  It would be a shame, though, if potential readers dismissed the book because of the title alone -- its source, by the way, is quite unexpected -- because Flynn has written a potent, distinctive autobiography.

Booksellers, book discussion groups, other book reviews, Wisconsin Public Radio [but this was before the FCC's current campaign really got going; maybe they used the word only on their website, though, and not on the air -- isn't this absurd?], and many other sources just used the damn title, without apology.

The "unexpected" source of the title isn't particularly intriguing: it's a phrase Flynn's father used.  (Though Jon Lighter wryly suggested: "Maybe unexpected to Vida because it sounds so, so, 21st Century!!!!! Like, you know?")

"Another bullshit night" comes up in several blogs, with reference to disappointing evenings. Google also nets a few occurrences of "Suck City" (with reference to Flint MI and Atlanta GA, at least) that are not references to a band of that name. Both expressions in one package is (so far as my searches last fall showed) restricted to Nick Flynn's book.

The NYT's refusal to use some form of shit in print is just barely understandable, though many other publications didn't share its reluctance.  What is so remarkable to me is that it seems to consider suck a taboo word as well, even in contexts with no explicit reference to fellatio.  As far as I can tell, it's unique in this.

zwicky at-sign csli period stanford period edu

Posted by Arnold Zwicky at March 19, 2005 09:36 PM