Helpful Hints for Editors: The Avoidance of Bad Taste

“Don’ts” for the avoidance of bad taste would make a list of incalculable length, and it is not proposed to embark on one. But a few cautions should be noted.

Matters of Religion. A story related that Bishop Sheen was embarrassed when he caused a plane departure to be delayed because he had overlooked having his passport validated. The head said: “Sheen, Temporarily, Lacks Peace of Soul.” Don’t go fooling around with religion or any of the appurtenances thereof.

Physical Afflictions. Another story concerned a “cookout” at which little deaf girls served frankfurters. The head said “Deaf Girl Scouts Know Hot Dogs Go Without Saying.” Don’t deal lightly with physical afflictions.

Death and Injury. A third story was about a 14-year-old boy who was seriously injured when a chemical experiment he was performing at home caused an explosion. It was headlined: “Boy’s ‘Lab’ Goes Boom.” Don’t try to be funny or featurish when death or serious injury is involved.

Blood, Sweat, and Dirt. Filth, stench, gore, and purely animal functions normally meet with little hospitality in the news columns. There are rare exceptions. A bowel movement may be mentioned if it belongs to a President recovering from a heart attack. If the nation is at war, it may be advisable in an occasional descriptive story to let the home folks know that the lads at the front are not vying for Boy Scout merit badges in woodcraft.

—From the book Watch Your Language: A lively, informal guide to better writing, emanating from the News Room of the New York Times, by Theodore M. Bernstein, published in 1965 by Atheneum.

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