The F-word and how to use it

Why do newspapers and magazines censor reported speech? I was reading a copy of my favourite newspaper this morning and came across the phrase "and he rudely told me to 'F*** off!'". Later the same article had the words "what a complete load of bulls***".

I can understand a newspaper not wanted to shock either its older readers whose sensibilities are still firmly rooted in the Victorian age (where you could beat a member of the lower orders to within an inch of their life for saying the word 'damn'), or young readers whose innocence must saved on all accounts (except when it comes to gratuitous violence on TV and in films).

Maybe there is a middle ground of people who are incredibly naive and faint if they hear or see profane language. Clearly bus drivers cannot be afflicted with this anti-rudeness disease, or builders, or anyone who works in a shop, or in fact has any part of the modern world. I myself have been known to use, what is considered, vulgar language on occasion. Actually, I use it even when there is not an occasion.

I'm not an advocate of reducing your vocabulary in favour of a restricted set of expletives. In fact I would cherish a society where people could express themselves in wide variety of inventively eloquent ways, instead of falling back to the default of swearing-makes-you-cool. My objections ot the st*rring out of letters in 'swear words' is this:

Why leave letters in at all?

Leaving the letter 'p' in 'p*** off' is a deliberate waymarker for the erstwhile reader, suggesting that the word used was 'piss'. If you had never heard the phrase 'piss off' (and you must be living in an isolation tank not to have) you could be very confused into think that the word was 'part', 'post', 'pink' or perhaps 'poop'. As much as I would enjoy hearing people say 'pink off' during Eastenders (actually, I would rather hear it on The Archers, as I would actually have to watch Eastenders for that to be a possibility, but they are never uncouth enough for it to be a possibility), it will never happen.

Since there can be no mistaking that 'p***' means 'piss', why not write 'piss' and save yourselves the bother pressing the shift key?

The reason is that we are afraid of offending other people, in a very British way. I know that the word piss is on a list of 'naughty' words but who decided that they were naughty? We ask young children (if we have them, not the children of strangers - that would be very, deeply weird) if they need a wee or a pee in public and no-takes offence. Why should piss be any different, it describes exactly the same thing.

Maybe it is the context.

'Wee off' and 'piss off' do not mean the same thing, because 'piss' in this context does not mean 'to relieve oneself through the act of micturation'. But if that were the sole reason then any word could be put on the naughty step, if enough people used to create offence. A good example of this is the 'gay', which has gone nearly full circle and become a good thing again (to most rational people, who aren't Christian mentalists or baby-eating BNP members).

I think the best use of this I've heard recently was in the new Star Trek film. McCoy turns to Spock and says (with a soft 'v' and barely perceptible 'l') "Are you out of your Vulcan mind?".

You can be naughty without being naughty. Go on, give it a go and join me on the naughty step.