“I’m no prude,” began a reader’s first email, “but I was surprised to see this in the Sunday Sun-Times.”

The mayor of Prospect Heights, Rodney Pace,  was commenting on $100,000 in flood-control funds earmarked for his town that Governor Blagojevich had lopped from the state budget. “You can thank the governor because we’re out on River Road, sandbagging, where that frickin’ levee is supposed to go that that money would help fund,” said Pace — according to the Sun-Times, that is. The reader doubted this was quite what Pace really said.

The story ran in the early Sunday edition, the bulldog. It disappeared from later editions. The reader suspected a squeamish editor’s heavy hand. “You gotta admit it’s a good quote. And as close as I’ve ever seen to the ‘f-word’ in a family newspaper,” he argued in a later email. “More to the point, if the politicians are using that kind of language for quote, it just shows how screwy the political situation is in Springfield.”

I was also giving the matter some thought. I imagined two scenarios that could explain the story’s disappearance. In the first, a mayor accurately quoted called to complain that his constituents assumed he’d cussed. In the second, a mayor glad to be portrayed as a John Henry kind of guy, a broad-backed sacker of sand quick with the manly invective, called to complain that his constituents assumed he hadn’t. 

Don’t be so certain “frickin'” is a euphemism, I wrote my reader.

In reply, he went off on a tangent. “I’ve always thought it was an odd quirk of our culture,” he pondered, “that we commonly accept substitutes for words that are officially taboo. I remember reading years ago in Leo Rosten’s ‘Joys of Yiddish’ that in ‘polite company’ it was common to use ‘schmendrick’ instead of ‘schmuck.'”
It was time to go to the source. I contacted Springfield bureau chief Dave McKinney, who’d spoken to Pace by cell phone. Sure enough, Pace had said exactly what the Sun-Times said he said. And managing editor Don Hayner told me the story got dropped simply because there was too much flood news to run it all.
The lesson here is that there are journalistic conventions that cover these matters and they need to be more widely understood. In a properly edited paper “f——” = “fucking” and “frickin'” = “frickin.'” No public figure who uses either one to salt his speech should ever have to be confused with the sort of person who’d use the other.