AP Style Obscenities, Profanities, Vulgarities

AP Style holds that you should not use obscenities in stories unless they are part of direct quotations and there is a compelling reason for them.

Try to find a way to give the reader a sense of what was said without using the specific word or phrase. If a profanity, obscenity, or vulgarity must be used, flag the story at the top with the following,

Eds: Story includes vulgarity (or graphic content, etc.)

Confine the offending language, in quotation marks, to a separate paragraph that can be deleted easily by editors who do not want to use it.

In reporting profanity that normally would use the words “damn” or “god,” lowercase “god” and use the following forms,

  • “damn”
  • “damn it”
  • “god-damn it”

Do not change “damn it” to “darn it.”

If a full quote that contains an obscenity, profanity, of vulgarity cannot be dropped but there is no compelling reason for the offensive language, replace the letter of the offensive word with hyphens, using only an initial letter. In some stories or scripts, it may be better to replace the offensive word with a generic descriptive in parenthesis, e.g. (vulgarity) or (obscenity).

When the subject matter of a story may be considered offensive, but the story does not contain quoted profanity, obscenities, or vulgarities, flag the story at the top with the following,

Eds: Story may be offensive to some readers.

For guidelines on racial or ethnic slurs, see AP Style Nationalities and Races.

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