It no longer occurs to me to query the use of four-letter words, even when they are used gratuitously, as in “I missed the fucking bus.” I used to be a prude, but now I am a ruined woman. We had a discussion in the copy department a few weeks ago about how to style the euphemism: Shall it be “f”-word, f word, f-word, “F” word, F word, or F-word? I don’t like any of them. Fuck euphemisms. Get on the goddam fucking bus.
This week, a reader who sent in a portfolio of mistakes she had found in the magazine (two out of six were blatant errors, for which we are truly sorry) cited the use of the term “star fucker” in a piece by John Colapinto about the philanthropist Trevor Neilson. She had no objection to the term itself, but wrote in the margin, “Need ‘activating’ hyphen!”
Thank you, dear reader, for giving a name to that hyphen. I’ve spent years studying compound nouns, vaguely aware that the hyphen in “dog-lover” clarifies that the dog is the object of the love, whereas in “dog lover,” without the hyphen, the dog is a stud. “Star fucker,” in this context, definitely should have taken the hyphen. See how, with the hyphen, the weight of the word comes down on the first half of the compound? Star-fucker. Without the hyphen, the word tips, giving equal weight to both nouns and turning the compound from an insult to a term of endearment. It is refreshing to see that readers have evolved along with the magazine.
A short must-read on the trials of copy editors and profanity in The New Yorker