Which is why we are pointing you today to Blackbird Spyplane, the Substack newsletter that the New York Times said was “inventing a new language for talking about style.” As it happens, some of that language is generously sprinkled with little stars.
Blackbird Spyplane clearly isn’t prudish. So what is it up to with the be-asterisked words—trying to highlight them, maybe?
Over on Instagram, I private-messaged co-editor Jonah Weiner to learn his motives. He swiftly replied that he had two reasons:
1. I learned from listening to [the podcast] Time Crisis with Ezra Koenig that a good-natured upbeat conversation that’s full of bleeped curses is just funny on a formal level, and I wanted to try to simulate that in print, and relatedly 2. I tend to use so many curses that it might risk feeling a bit too harsh in aggregate without the asterisks softening the effect.
(Edited slightly not to remove profanity but to add clarifying punctuation, capital letters, and a link.)
I’ve never used asterisks in written profanity, for the usual reasons — we’re all supposedly adults here, and it’s just rude to expect your guests to do part of the work of making your meaning clear. “Here’s a new post. Some assembly required”? That would be like inviting you over for dinner and having you help in the kitchen beforehand, or maybe even handing you something from the refrigerator and pointing you toward the microwave. No, if I want to treat you to some spicy commentary, there will be no shortcuts taken. Still, though, I can appreciate the rationale here. Asterisks as sight gags, or as sheets of tonal fabric softener? Not for me, but I guess that makes sense.
My own attempts to swear without swearing usually involve archaisms, like trying to bring back the use of swive. I’ve also adopted the habit of calling someone a canute. Not in a gendered sense, of course — here I follow the example of our British cousins in that canute can apply equally to men or women. “You swiving canute!” I shout in a moment of road rage, trusting that heartfelt emotion will carry my meaning across, even if they think I’m speaking another language.