Fealty to our Puritanical heritage continues to mangle our language and bungle our attempts to communicate effectively.
As you’ve probably discovered, the self-abusing media got all hot and bothered because Tiger Woods’ caddy, Steve Williams, had the audacity to call fellow golfer Phil Mickelson a prick at a charity event in New Zealand over the weekend.
Reached via satellite phone at his lakefront Xanadu in southwestern Florida, Woods allowed as to how disappointed he was to hear Steve Williams speak in such ungentlemanly terms regarding his rival (though he privately regards Mickelson as one swollen, grotesque prick).
This is all good stuff, good for golf and good for the prurient interest. The problem? You will not find the word “prick” anywhere in the pages of the mainstream American media. Too salty for our gentile tastes, it seems.
This is how Larry Dorman, writing in the New York Times, described the story:
“Williams shed his well-documented aversion to speaking on the record to reporters last week. At an event in New Zealand he was quoted in the British newspaper The Guardian saying, “I wouldn’t call Mickelson a great player,” and using an expletive to describe him.
The quote has been bowdlerized and eviscerated. In the Guardian Web site, right under the headline “Woods’s caddy delivers withering assessment of World No. 2 Mickelson,” is the quote: “I wouldn’t call Mickelson great ’cause I hate the prick.”
Curiously, The Times attempts to deflect its priggishness by running a photo of “Caddyshack” characters Ty Webb and Danny Noonan under the dubiously punny headline, “Woods left holding the bag after caddy’s remarks.”
The Associated Press, with golf writer Doug Ferguson at the helm, also avoided the profane, twisting the quote to Williams saying he wouldn’t call Mickelson a great player “because I think he’s a (expletive).”
In addition to omitting the offensive word, both citations remove the central emotion. Williams, at least in The Guardian’s story, didn’t say “I think he’s a expletive.” He said, “I hate the prick.”
That’s not just editing for prudish sensibilities, it’s changing the statement entirely.
The most distressing problem with this self-righteous obeisance to the prim and proper is it clouds the story. “I think he’s a (expletive)” just sends you to the Internet to find out just what sort of expletive Steve Williams think appropriately describes Phil Mickelson.
Is he a fuck? An asshole? A douchebag? A cocksucker? A motherfucker? A shithead?
It makes no sense.
The story, in essence, is that Tiger Woods’ caddy called his primary rival a prick. If that is newsworthy, and every major media outlet in the world seems to think it is, then there’s no story without the prick. No matter what the Associated Press Style Book or the Chicago Manual of Style has to say.
In a humorous sidebar, Mickelson’s management company issued a statement in response, saying Williams’ description of their golfer as a prick is “grossly inaccurate and irresponsible.”
All of this is old news and summons to mind the immortal bit by the late George Carlin, which includes the line “you can finger your prick, but you can’t prick your finger.”
Here it is: