For a newspaper, there is an element of irony involved in writing about dirty words. You may just have come from seeing "Glengarry Glen Ross," with its litanies and riffs of four -letter words, but in this newspaper, the closest you will get to them is a "- - - -." Apart from certain exceptions such as the testimony in the Thomas-Hill hearings, newspapers have not lowered the barricades against expletives.
Nor has over-the-air television, although anything goes on cable. Stations using the public airwaves have policies similar to newspapers, although policies are relaxed from time and time, and recently, I've started hearing "p- - - - - off" a lot on the tube, especially on sports broadcasts. The standards for radio are in flux; the current situation is that some broadcasters use borderline language, and then the FCC fines them for it, but year after year, the radio talkers expand the list of sayable words.
The current rule seems to be: If you put yourself in a position to hear four-letter words, then you have only yourself to blame, and there are no laws against their use. If you buy a ticket for a movie or a play in which the words are used, that was your decision. Same goes for books and magazines. But the public media -- newspapers, radio and over-the-air radio TV - are places where you do not expect to encounter such language, and generally speaking, you don't.
The MAA's movie rating system takes language into account, and many newspaper reprint the reasons for their ratings. In my review of "Glengarry Glen Ross," for example, the small print under the cast and credits quoted the MPAA: "R (for language)."
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