A Brief History of “Fuck” in The New York Times

Also fucked, fucking, fucker, motherfucker, and Airbnfuckingbs

Kurt Andersen
GEN
Published in
4 min readJul 13, 2021

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The New York Times remains America’s and maybe the world’s single most influential cultural gatekeeper. It’s a last bastion in many ways. As I’m reminded whenever I come across its contortions to avoid…vulgarities.

For instance, after the Supreme Court’s recent ruling that a high school cheerleader was free to Snapchat “Fuck school fuck softball fuck cheer fuck everything,” the Times’ news story referred to it only as “a vulgar social media message.” Likewise Bret Stephens, in his published weekly conversation with fellow Opinion columnist Gail Collins, calling it “a certain four-letter epithet…that we’re usually not allowed to write in this newspaper.”

Yet at the beginning of summer, I’d seen the word in a long Opinion essay about stories that children love — was actually startled, because Salman Rushdie used it literally, referring to The Arabian Nights and Scheherazade’s “younger sister who sat at the foot of the marital bed for one thousand nights and one night, watching her sister being fucked by the murderous king.”

Which led to this little investigation of mine. I’ve discovered how surprisingly often the New York Times publishes fuck and its derivatives, in fact, and how wildly…

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Kurt Andersen
GEN
Writer for

Award-winning, bestselling author (Evil Geniuses, Fantasyland, True Believers, Heyday, Turn of the Century) and creator of media (Studio 360, Inside, SPY).