|Entrance to the Mine Shaft (source of photo: Lenny Waller)|
Jim Willse had recently been hired as the new editor of the Daily News. He wasn't in the position long before the News ran one of its trademark exclusives: A gay nightclub called the Mine Shaft was rented from a landlord who had some connection to the city and was getting a big tax break. Great story. The blaring Page One headline, however, was "How the city got shafted."
Whoa, I thought. "Shafted" is a euphemism for f***ed. I had always considered that to be a no-no. I mean, to me, saying "How the city got shafted" was no different than saying "How the city got f***ed." What would the housewife in Queens, considered to be a typical Daily News reader, react to that?
This took place in November or December. At the Christmas party that year I approached Willse, whom I'd never met, and asked him about the headline.
"That was a good headline," he said. Who knows, he might have written it. His point being that shaft, as in the club's name, and shaft, as in what happened to the city, was a clever pun. No arguing with that, so I let the issue go.
That headline opened the floodgates, even in the sports department. A few days later, my colleague Freddy Cranwell, for an article about how the New Jersey Nets basketball team got blown out in a road game for the umpteenth time, wrote a very large back page head that said "Road Apples."
Now, I grew up in the city and had no idea what a road apple was, so I asked him, "What's a road apple?"
"You don't know what a road apple is?" Fred, who lived in New Jersey, asked incredulously.
"No I don't," I said.
"They're what a horse leaves behind on the road," he said.
In other words, horse shit. He was writing a headline that said the New Jersey Nets were horse shit.
Fred was the night sports editor that night, so there was nothing I could do about it, doubly so since the city had just been f***ed.
Which brings me, 33 years later, to a headline on Politico.
"Critics ream Trump immigration address," the headline said.
Whoa, I thought. Just to be sure, I looked up "ream" on the Internet, and here is the definition from the Urban Dictionary:
usage: To get fucked painfully. Can be replaced in most instances of f**k.
I got f***ed over on this assignment -> I got reamed on this assignment
Now, some people, including I'm sure Jim Willse, who went on to a prize winning career as the editor of the Newark Star-Ledger, would find Trump's immigration speech getting "reamed" to be perfectly acceptable. Maybe Arianna Huffington would find it OK as well, although to the best of my recollection this is the first time I saw it used in a headline on any news site.
Further, one might argue, the purpose of euphemisms is to make acceptable in language or usage acts or things which would otherwise be perceived as unacceptable.
And then it occurred to me that as dinosaurs such as myself fade from the copy editing scene, a much younger generation is cranking out the news both in print and on the Internet. Which raises the possibility, perhaps even the likelihood, that someone who only heard "reamed" in a usage whereby it was substituted for "harshly criticized," as in "I got reamed for trying to sneak that headline through," that copy editor might not even know he had just written the equivalent of "Critics painfully f**k Trump immigration speech," and thought that they were only being harshly critical of it.
That's what I'd like to think, in which case I could attribute my reaction to a case of Post Traumatic Headline Disorder, even though the initial headline was in the Daily News and not the New York or Washington Post. Daily News Traumatic Headline Disorder doesn't carry much weight as a malady, although it would be hard to argue with WaPo Traumatic Headline Disorder.