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December 5, 2013 5:19 PM   Subscribe

What's it called when authors put ****** in place of place names or character names?

And why do they do it? Who started this convention, and when? I don't really know how to google for this.
posted by dilaudid to Writing & Language (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Redaction? This post at Stack Exchange provides a few possible explanations.
posted by jeudi at 5:30 PM on December 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's been discussed before.
posted by graymouser at 5:33 PM on December 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I've seen this done in American works from the late 19th century it has appeared intended to convey that the author is relating a true story but refraining from revealing the names of those involved. So somewhat like the caveat "names have been changed to protect the innocent."
posted by XMLicious at 5:34 PM on December 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

Redaction is when existing text is blanked out for censorship/security purposes. This is an anonymizing convention for which I don't think there's a special name.
posted by languagehat at 5:34 PM on December 5, 2013

It's somewhere between a redaction and "fill in the blank", and it's definitely common in early modern literature (late 1600s to mid-1700s) and especially novels, when the form is still flirting with the conceit that it's non-fictional. A novel like Fielding's Pamela is a good example.

On preview: I was going to link to that Stack Exchange post, and yeah, previously.
posted by holgate at 5:36 PM on December 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Those earlier discussions are very useful, but you might also enjoy this from TV Tropes: Spell My Name with a Blank.
posted by maudlin at 5:37 PM on December 5, 2013

I think the term for it would be obfuscation, though it's not specific to this stylistic use and a Google search on "obfuscation" returns innumerable links about JavaScript.
posted by graymouser at 5:38 PM on December 5, 2013

I think it's a form of expurgation, functionally close to ellipsis.
posted by gingerest at 5:42 PM on December 5, 2013

Could you consider it elided words?

For the reading I did for my English degree I saw this all the time. In some cases you can accept that it's a specific name they are striking out, while in other cases (e.g., Tristram Shandy) you get the feeling the writer is messing with you.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:18 PM on December 5, 2013

A slightly different, but related (?) convention is sometimes seen in very old letters, esp. from the 18th and 19th centuries, and in literal transcriptions of the same. This is when the author writes out someone's name the first time they use it, but then in subsequent usage just writes an initial followed by a dash. E.g. "Mister Dilaudid" the first time and simply "Mr D—" or "D—" thereafter.

It's just a form of suspension abbreviation, but if the work is excerpted or quoted later without expanding the first usage in the quote, it ends up looking like a coy redaction, even if that was never the intent. I think that's crummy quoting technique but I've definitely seen it.

There's some other interesting information regarding abbreviations in the linked PDF, although nothing really on redactions.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:52 PM on December 5, 2013

I'd call it elision, but I don't know if that's the "technical" term.
posted by Zozo at 11:23 AM on December 6, 2013

I've seen it referred to as "masking" in various situations.
posted by Dansaman at 9:21 PM on December 6, 2013

What situations? If it's not when authors put ****** in place of place names or character names, it's irrelevant.
posted by languagehat at 7:52 AM on December 7, 2013

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