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"Up and down the Big Muddy, farmers braced for a repeat of a desperate strategy employed earlier this week"


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"Jail inmates filled sandbag after sandbag to protect one of the many cities threatened by the swelling Mississippi River in the South as the river broke more 1930s flood records and crept higher Thursday. ... Up and down the Big Muddy, farmers braced for a repeat of the desperate strategy employed earlier this week, when Army engineers blew up a levee and sacrificed vast stretches of farmland to protect populated areas upstream."

They keep trying, but not even the corporate media can rewrite American history and American geography. The river known as the Big Muddy is the Missouri, not the Mississippi.

"Kutcher said, 'I can't replace Charlie Sheen but I'm going to work my ass off to entertain the h*** out of people!' "

When I started in the newspaper business, mainstream papers would have used both a** and h*** in that quotation, if they didn't delete the words entirely. As the language grew more casual and permissive, editors sometimes allowed "hell" to appear in print — "Under Gingrich, experts said, the House of Representatives went straight to hell" — but a** remained a**, if the editor knew his a** from a hole in the ground.

Now, if the above quotation is typical, the pendulum has swung in a different direction. "Hell" has become "h***" again and "a**" has emerged, like a butterfly, as "ass." I'm d***** if I know what to make of these changes. It may be that the language has loosened up to the point that nobody knows the rules on what's permissible and what isn't, maybe even to the point that there are no rules, or at least none that are widely followed. I know people who advocate the "anything goes" philosophy. I'm still of the "some things don't" school, depending on the audience, but reaching a consensus on what those things are has become harder than ever.

Even if consensus emerges, people are free to ignore it. I expect that quite a few will not sanction ass in their own speech and writing.


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