The Press: How to Deal with Four-Letter Words

IN their handling of Philip Roth's celebrated new novel, Portnoy's Complaint, the nation's editors and reviewers faced one of modern journalism's increasingly recurrent challenges to taste and sensibilities. The problem was not how to judge the book (with few exceptions, critics called it a masterly novel of the Jewish genre), but how to convey its sexual content and earthy language without using THOSE WORDS.

The Chicago Sun-Times circled warily, citing Roth's "generous use of the saltier nicknames for our reproductive organs and their congress with one another." In the New Republic, Critic Anatole...

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