Expletives (not) deleted: Cranked’s policy on profanities

It’s always good to get feedback from our readers because, well, the whole point of the mag is to provide something that our readers want. Many of you have been good enough to drop us a line or give us a shout out on social media, and the overwhelming response has been positive. For which we can only say, thank you very much (you’ll have to imagine the accompanying blush).

We appreciate constructive criticism too, because it helps us consider whether what we’re doing is the best that it could be. There’s been very little of that though – which, given the fact that people are normally more inclined to complain than to praise, is something that we’re proud of.

However, one social media comment and one considered, carefully worded email (from different readers) gave us pause for thought recently. In both cases, we were pulled up for our use of swearing and ‘bad language’ in issue #4. So I thought it might be helpful to set out Cranked’s profanity policy (yes, we do have one) and explain where we’re coming from. (Spoiler alert: this blog post may contain words which some readers might find offensive, because one of our policies is that we don’t use asterisks or expect our readers to guess what a word might be).

profanity

First, it might help to explain the background: Cranked is a magazine for adults. We don’t set out to offend, but neither will we shy away from printing the kind of language that’s in common, everyday use, where it’s appropriate (I’ll come back to that). The cover price, quarterly publication schedule, long form features and lack of easy availability in high street newsagents should all provide a clue to the mag’s intended audience. Magazines don’t need ratings in the same way that films do but, if they did, I’d be perfectly happy with an 18.

Cranked is also very people-orientated. We talk – a lot – to the individuals we feature in each issue, and many of those conversations are recorded (with the participants’ consent, naturally). Many magazines conduct interviews by email. It’s quick, easy and popular with some interviewees because they can carefully consider what to say in order to present themselves in the best light, and to keep their sponsors happy.

We don’t do that, unless time or geographical constraints leave us with no option. Why? Because we prefer to get to know our subjects a bit, spend a little time with them and ask them some awkward questions. What we print in the mag is what they said – no more, no less. No-one swears in an email interview – why would they? We have the time to interview properly, and we won’t edit a reply (or a question, for that matter) except, in exceptional circumstances, to improve clarity by reducing repetition or hesitation.

So if an Interviewee says “fuck” in their response… it goes in print as “fuck”, not as “f**k”, “****” or “heck” or some other variant.

Given that we interview people properly, do quite a lot of it, and ask occasional awkward questions, profanities do crop up. It’s just the way people speak, and at Cranked we reflect that.

Cranked is not alone in this: at least one UK broadsheet newspaper has had a similar policy for years (though, bizarrely, many still shy away from printing profanities in full. Given that you need to know the full gamut of Anglo-Saxon expletives to be able to tell your “s***” from your “c***”, it’s always struck me as rather quaint and old-fashioned. Expletives, apparently, should be heard but not seen).

However, we do go a bit further: we will, occasionally, print an expletive that isn’t a direct quote. Cranked’s writers are some of the best mountain bike scribblers out there. They’re also an experienced, opinionated bunch – and they’re encouraged to express themselves. Given that Cranked’s style is informal and conversational, for the most part, it’s not surprising that every once in a while a “fuck” creeps in (“for fuck’s sake” is a recent example). It is occasional, though: the bar is set higher for this kind of use than it is for a direct quote.

You could, perhaps, argue that resorting to expletives in prose is the sign of poor writing, but I’m going to stick my neck out and disagree. Language isn’t fixed; it’s fluid. Meanings shift, words fall in and out of favour, boundaries are blurred. Although Cranked is proudly print only, its use of language reflects an everyday vernacular; not a million miles from the way people communicate online or face to face.

We also love language for its own sake. Some of my favourite words that have appeared recently in Cranked (or are about to appear) include “fecund”, “hubris” and “discombobulate”. There are more, but I can’t remember them off the top of my head. Expressing yourself well isn’t just a matter of inserting expletives; it’s about using the best words to get the job done. That’s what we try to do, always.

And, although we do use profanities, we also have a zero tolerance approach to exclamation marks. But that’s a whole other topic…

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