National Affairs: The Word That Came to Dinner

Only the radio commentators, fearful of the rule in the 1934 Communications Act against profanity, worked hard to keep their language more sedate than the President's. Newspapers, including the New York Times ("All the News That's Fit to Print") boldly printed the initials "S.O.B." in headlines. A phrase long taboo in newspapers had been given a kind of sanction by passing through the President's mouth; S.O.B. had become editorial S.O.P.

It had long seemed to be all right—even profitable—to use much gamier words, including blasphemy and obscenity, in U.S. novels. "Son-of-a-bitch" had quite a literary past, going back at least to Shakespeare...

Want the full story?

Subscribe Now


Get TIME the way you want it

  • One Week Digital Pass — $4.99
  • Monthly Pay-As-You-Go DIGITAL ACCESS$2.99
  • One Year ALL ACCESSJust $30!   Best Deal!
    Print Magazine + Digital Edition + Subscriber-only Content on

Learn more about the benefits of being a TIME subscriber

If you are already a subscriber sign up — registration is free!