There is style, and there is taste. There is also politics. The “style” in question here is the sort that is so often the source of bloody combat in the publishing world: whether to capitalize the Pope (pope), how to spell “okay” (OK?) and any number of sordid battles over the English language and the sacred realm of punctuation. Full stop.
The American news business has long relied on the AP Style Guide to adjudicate these often absurd skirmishes. But we have also seen how high the stakes can be when we must decide if someone is a “terrorist” or “insurgent,” or even whether to call the U.S. president a liar.
Instead, the job of determining the boundaries of what we call "taste" was tested most recently when since ousted White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci went off on a vulgar tirade in an interview with The New Yorker magazine. News organizations had to decide what the heck to do about his language, which included X-rated insults of senior presidential staffers. Sometimes profanity is just profanity, and sometimes it is pure politics. Good taste in this case calls for us not to republish the particulars of Scaramucci’s rant here, since it’s a moot fuckin’ point.
We’re also reminded of the role of linguistic subtleties (or lack thereof) when it comes to international relations.
Of course, every language, and every country, has its standards. And its editors. In China, the closest thing to an AP Style Guide is one put out in recent years by the state-run Xinhua News Agency. It is unsurprisingly an open expression of the regime’s air-tight approach to controlling information, but also a fascinating insight into mores and social norms, including an often entertaining list of banned words.
Among the updates, as SupChina reports: “Never indicate that Hong Kong and Macau are countries in any texts, maps, or diagrams” and “never publish the phrase green tea bitch.”
Language, as Orwell taught us, is politics. What words are used — and banned — can tell us much about a place and its leaders. But we’re also reminded of the role of linguistic subtleties (or lack thereof) when it comes to international relations. The current U.S. president conducts foreign policy via Twitter, where he recently declared he was “very disappointed” that China’s leaders “do NOTHING” about North Korea.
Beijing responded in their own way Thursday: via an article in Xinhua, translated here. "Trump is quite a personality, and he likes to tweet, but emotional venting cannot become a guiding policy for solving the nuclear issue on the peninsula." This editor will never know the nuances of Mandarin, but “emotional venting” is pitch perfect in English.