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Public Editor Public Editor: Vulgar? Inoffensive? It depends on how some words are used

Globe and Mail Public Editor Sylvia Stead.

The Globe and Mail

Some words and phrases will offend some readers. Yesterday, it was a "pretty prime minister" and separately a "union boss." Months ago, it was "tuchuses."

Such words are often used to add a little colour and flair in an article, to use less formal language and simply to have a little fun.

On Thursday, Simon Houpt wrote about how media in the United States, feeling exhausted by Donald Trump, seem thrilled to have a distraction with the visit by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

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"The U.S. media can be as nasty as a rabid pit bull, but throw it a new toy in the shape of a pretty prime minister and it turns into a purring pussycat. Case in point: For the past week, American news outlets have been treating Thursday's state dinner in Washington as something akin to a debutante ball, each breathlessly outdoing the other in a race to introduce their audience to Justin Trudeau."

The article further explains that various U.S. outlets have described "Justin Fever" while one unnamed Obama official declared Mr. Trudeau "dreamy, my new political crush."

So clearly, this isn't what Mr. Houpt thinks, but rather his description of how the U.S. media sees Mr. Trudeau and the visit.

But the reader felt otherwise: "Simon Houpt's use of the word 'pretty' in your front page Trudeau visit is pretty awful and demeaning. Another reflection of the attitude of your newspaper since the day following his election. A better use of vocabulary would be more appealing to your readership. Consult a thesaurus for more accurate and appropriate word choice to express your writing."

This reader wasn't the only one unhappy with a term used. A story about Hy's Steakhouse closing in Ottawa quoted Unifor national president Jerry Dias and later described him as "the union boss."

The reader noted that "to its credit, The Globe and Mail's first reference to Unifor's Jerry Dias gave him his proper title, national president. However, the next reference to Dias as "union boss" is disrespectful because of the negative connotations that the term 'union boss' has built up over time."

There is no reference to the term in The Globe and Mail style book.

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And finally, the new National NewsMedia Council dismissed a complaint against The Globe and Mail for the use of the word "tuchuses" to refer to how many people can be seated during worship.

The complainant argued that the word is not a substitute for the inoffensive "buttock." He described the word as "vulgar," and noted The Globe's style book states words which may offend readers should be avoided.

The NewsMedia Council found the word was used as a casual reference, similar to the description of "bums on pews" in Christian places of worship.

I'm always happy to hear from readers and pass on their concerns about the wording and phrases used to the editors who make the rulings on style. You can e-mail me at publiceditor@globeandmail.com or follow me on Twitter @SylviaStead.

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