Canadian Press has shown the way, and it's about time:
Editors pondering how -- or whether -- to include the expletive can find it right between FTP and Fudgsicle in the guide, which lists hundreds of words that editors and writers might trip over because of difficult or offbeat spellings or odd capitalization.
"We found the word was creeping into our news stories on a fairly regular basis, probably because people are saying it more and more in public, and various media pick it up on their microphones and recorders,'' said Patti Tasko, editor of Caps and Spelling.
Its entry in the 40th anniversary edition of the 215-page guide -- the only vulgarity included other than "damn'' and its variations and s.o.b. -- In short: avoid it for the most part. And if it must be used because it adds a valuable news element to a story, spell it out. No f and three asterisks. No "eff word.'' No freakings, friggings or firkings either, for that matter.
F--- was once a curse of the greatest power and authority. Now it has been reduced to an ugly annoyance, a gross verbal belch, through overuse by people who either don't, or should, know better.
But as our culture becomes more sexually licentious and racially hypersensitive, n----- has taken the place of f--- as the neutron bomb of expletives.
Shout f--- in a crowded theatre and no one will much care anymore. Shout n----- and you'll be lucky to make it out alive.
Perhaps n----- will one day have as little shock value as f--- does now. Centuries ago, such curses as zounds, bloody and damn could shock even the most vulgar man. Now they pass unnoticed in polite conversation.
Yet even n----- and f--- pale now in comparison to c--- for shock value in this otherwise unshockable culture.
One might find a necessary, if distasteful, use for n-----, and as CP's stylebook mavens have conceded, for f---, in conversation or writing.
But no one would dare suggest that there is any possible appropriate context for the use of c---. You just can't say it, even in the crudest company, without causing a stir.
But perhaps that taboo will pass, as well. And CP stylebooks will have to be edited to reflect that.
What then will be left as the unspeakable curse?
Postscript: History of the F-Word (NC-17 Rating)