(Inspired by the comments on the Blog Dysfunctional Literacy about reading Huckleberry Finn.)
What words are the most unmentionable nowadays? At one time it was the f-word, or the c-word, now it seems to be the n-word. I can’t for the life of me see why. But while I can happily include the f- or the c- word my blog, I wouldn’t want to use the n-word in full because some nasty search engine might pounce on it and perhaps get my whole WordPress.com blog blocked.
You think I jest- I assure you I do not. Recently a broadcaster in Britain was forced to make a grovelling apology for an accidental use of the forbidden word when quoting some children’s rhyme from years ago. (I’m not trying to avoid giving his name , I simply don’t know it. ) I’m very concerned about the over-reaction to this accidental slip-up.
There’s the story and play by Agatha Christie that had to be renamed so it didn’t offend the delicate sensibilities of American readers. Totally bonkers. As far as I know the story had no racial connotations whatsoever but was about a group of people who were killed off one after another.
Of course this banned word appears “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn” – usually considered classics and I imagine in many other well-known and highly regarded American novels, like “To Kill a Mocking Bird” by Harper Lee or “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett. I would expect it to be used in many other works of fiction both in America and elsewhere.
There’s a strong tradition in England of using insulting terms for people of a different racial or ethnic background. These are a godsend to writers of fiction or plays; if your main character describes someone as a “frog” or a “kraut” or a “dago” you show not only the geographical origin of the person described but the attitude of your main character towards them.
I read somewhere that the only people allowed to use the n-word were black American men when referring to themselves. If this is true it is discrimination of the very worst kind.
The meanings of words change over time, witness the way “gay” once meant “light-hearted, cheerful” but is now used almost exclusively to mean homosexual. I remember a comic I read many years ago about a group of schoolgirls referred to as “the gay girls”. I can’t remember the details but they were just jolly cheerful schoolgirls and certainly not lesbians.
If the use of the n-word is such a problem that Huck Finn gets banned, why not insert a footnote saying that this word when used by Mark Twain was the equivalent of “black person” but as many black persons at that time were slaves or very poor and underprivileged it was used as a term of disparagement? That way today’s children wouldn’t miss out on what is a very fine story.
Surely it’s true
As writers you