7/12/2008

The Fluidity of Language

Everyone has heard of Jesse Jackson's "accidental" comments on Fox News where he accused Barack Obama of "talking down" to African-Americans and shared the fact he would like to "cut his nuts off".

If you read the NY Times coverage of the event they got the "talking down" part but pretty much glossed over the desire of Jackson to castrate a major party candidate and member of his own race.

According to a column in the NY Times today the reason they didn't mention the more graphic and more revealing comment was that they're just too nice.

But I’m sympathetic to Winfield and Strum, editors trying to maintain a civil New York Times in uncivil times.

As potty-mouth language spews from the president of the United States, the vice president of the United States, from rappers, rock bands, Hollywood movies, the Broadway stage, modern literature, cable television, the Internet and people on the sidewalk talking into their cellphones, The Times and other news media face a tough choice — just where to draw the line on words once thought unfit for what used to be called polite company.

That's from Clark Hoyt the Public Editor for the Times. It also points out just how out of touch they are with the real world and the changing social norms.

After all, he used the word "nuts" I doubt few people would cringe at that word today. My grandfather used that word!

When we can turn on the TV to "America's Funniest Home Videos" or "Most Outrageous" and see man after man getting slapped, punched, kicked, or otherwise struck in the nuts - are we really too squemish to say the word?

Mr. Hoyt makes the point in his lament of the decline of "polite" language that language is fluid. Words that were once perfectly acceptable are today taboo. Words that were once taboo are today perfectly acceptable.

After all, it was perfectly proper 200 years ago to use the word "piss" in polite conversation. You find it in medical books, diaries, letters, pretty much anywhere someone needed to refer to the act of urination or to urine.

Today, however, that word is taboo. I'm sure the Times would throw itself into a moral quandry over whether to print it.

Sixty years ago Clark Gable said, "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn." at the end of "Gone With the Wind". That single profanity shocked the nation and outraged polite citizens from coast to coast. I can still remember my mother saying how shocking it was to hear "that word" on screen.

Yet today, damn is nothing. It finds its way even into the most austere newspapers. So, in sixty years the stigma of such a "curse word" has diminished.

Hopefully, the folks at the Times will realize when a major figure says he wants to cut the nuts off of a candidate for the Presidency of the United States then the words he used are news. They show us a glimpse of this man's very bizarre psyche and show him for the common thug he really is.

After all, Jackson often bragged about tampering with white patrons food when he waited tables in the 50's in Greenville, SC. Not exactly what Ghandi, Thoreau, or King had in mind with non-violent protest, Jesse.

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