A Four Letter Word for....

Ever since New York Times public editor Byron Calame wrote this Sunday column calling on the Times to print a correction about a Sept. 5 column concerning Geraldo Rivera, a little media parlor game has sprung up. (The Times this week did print a grudging Editors' Note).

In the opening line of Calame's column, he characterized Rivera as "someone who might be best described by a four-letter word." So here's the letter that NPR host Peter Sagal sent to the Poynter Web site:

From PETER SAGAL, host, "Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me": For once, I find myself in agreement with Geraldo Rivera. He expresses confusion in regard to the New York Times Public Editor Byron Calame's dig at him, "One of the real tests of journalistic integrity is being fair to someone who might best be described by a four-letter word."

"What four letter word did he have in mind?" asks Geraldo.

That's what I wondered, too, when I read the item. There are a lot of commonly used epithets that come to mind when describing Mr. Rivera, and some of them have four letters, and some of them are sufficiently obscene to require euphemizing, but I couldn't think of any that were both four letters and dirty. Seven letters, sure. Twelve letters -- a little extreme, but I can see it.

There is the common scatalogical noun, but used by itself, as metonymy for a person, it seems vague and insufficient when describing someone of Geraldo's grandeur.

There's the Yiddish putz, which fits the subject -- particularly considering his background -- but it strikes me as a bit too obscure, even for Times readers, to require this kind of polite mouth-covering.

Mr. Rivera had his own suggestion: "Hero." I ask the learned readers of Romenesko: What's yours? Especially evocative ideas will be considered for our radio show this week.


My guess is that Calame is not big on vulgar profanity so my nominee is the rather bland, generic and disappointing "jerk."
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