Newsletter 65: On Profanity

Will Leitch
4 min readApr 5, 2019

I’ve decided to start putting some of the best newsletter essays here on Medium, so more people can read them. You’re still better off just subscribing. Here’s one from July 2017, about how I feel guilty that I don’t curse more, and how guilty I feel that I would feel guilty about something so dumb.

There has been much talk of profanity this week, thanks largely to our charming new White House Press Secretary. The New York Times, for the first time in its august history, ran the phrase “suck his own c-ck,” a phrase so evocative and bewildering that I just censored it in my own newsletter without thinking about it. This has led us into the sort of “what profanities are worthy of public consumption?” discussion that we haven’t had since, well, Rahm Emanuel, I guess. (Apparently the Washington Post used to direct people who searched the word “fuck” to their Miss Manners page, amusingly.)

I rarely, if ever, curse in my writing. This is not out of some sort of “you don’t need that flim-flam-filth!” Cosby-ing superiority, a term whose definition sure has changed dramatically in the last few years. I appreciate the need for the power of a vulgarity from time to time; sometimes there’s simply no other fucking way to put it. But I try to resist it at every opportunity, and even when I do sneak it into a movie review or a sports column, I usually dash out one of the letters. In my New York magazine column, I quoted Conor McGregor’s use of the word “fag — t” and even though it was a direct quote, and was important to the piece, I’ve been feeling gross about it all week. I don’t curse much in my regular life either, even before I had kids. It just doesn’t come naturally to me. I don’t think think there’s anything wrong, or untoward, or even unworthy, about profanity. I’m not Mitt Romney. It’s just not my thing.

There are obvious exceptions for this, of course: Namely, sporting events, and traffic. The person I am when I am watching a sporting event I am emotionally invested in, and the person I am when I am driving a car, that person bears little resemblance to the Will Leitch I attempt to project to the world and believe myself deep down to be. If you were to catch me when stuck behind some idiot going under the speed limit who won’t get out of the left lane, or after Travis Ishikawa hit that home run to end the 2014 NLCS, you would think I were Anthony Scaramucci crossed with…

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Will Leitch

Author of six books, including “How Lucky” and "The Time Has Come." NYMag/MLB.. Founder, Deadspin. https://williamfleitch.substack.com