One of my daily pleasures is reading the discussion posts in the Yahoo Group for the
Editorial Freelancers Association. Aside from the usual technical questions, there are often posts labeled “Chat” that relate somewhat more remotely to editing or freelancing, though they usually have something to do with words or writing.
Recently someone posted a “Chat” about an author’s fight with the New York Times about including the word “bitchassness” in an article. Evidently the Times, though they have allowed “bitch” and “ass” many times before, are balking this time. The word is being included in reference to Sean “Diddy” Combs’s numerous YouTube blogs, one of which includes this word in its title.
The original poster simply thought it was funny to what lengths this author had gone to argue his point with the newspaper. But others were not so amused and said that the word offended them and was hate speech. This has led to a lively little conversation about free speech, censorship, figurative meanings, and cultural mores.
We have roughly two camps: those who think that the word should be allowed because 1) it’s not that offensive, or 2) it’s being used as a quotation and not directly describing someone; and those who think it’s offensive hate speech that is derogatory to women.
If Mr. Combs uses this term solely for women, then perhaps there would be a stronger case for it being derogatory. But I watched the offending blog post, and the term seems to be used in a general sense. Interestingly, he uses the “N word” several times and a variant of it appears in text at the end of the post — but nobody has mentioned that being a problem!
Some people in the EFA discussion argued that there are plenty of words that have had more negative and even salacious connotations or meanings in the past but are commonly used today: “jerk” and “suck” were two examples. But then others responded that just because some words have passed into common usage doesn’t mean others should follow.
On a related note, I’ve been following the case FCC v. Fox Television Stations currently under consideration in the Supreme Court, mostly through rather hilarious posts on Language Log. If you don’t want to read lots and lots of swear words, don’t click those last three links!
Here the question is all about the “F word” whether the FCC is applying its rules consistently to fine broadcasters who neglect to edit out obscenities, even if fleeting. But I have to smile at linguists using rather complex semantic analyses, including graphs, to decide whether certain words are used as intensifiers (“effing brilliant!”) or as actual references to obscene acts. And for really funny stuff, read the comments.