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Monday, Aug. 29, 2016

You can't legislate the use of language

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The New York City Council, which last year "officially" banned the use of the n-

word has now added the b-word to its list. Saying the word was hateful and deeply sexist, the council is considering a resolution that would ban the b-word. Granted, the city acknowledges that the new resolution will carry little weight but they want it known that they oppose the controversial word.

Of course, New Yorkers are simply laughing at the suggestion. Banning language as a symbolic gesture never had much support in New York or anywhere else for that matter.

I find all of this discussion rather amusing. We can actually ban these words from the taxpayer-supported airwaves and, indeed, we have. But to ban this word or any other from our everyday language is a true lesson in futility and we all know it.

When it comes to bans, we must be very careful. Other societies have tried this tactic in the past and the history books tell us the result.

In fact, the New York council is finding more opposition than they had expected. Both liberal and the very few conservatives they could find have voiced objections with some government body controlling our language to this extent.

Some words lose their power with time. A couple hundred years ago the word cur was in controversial fashion. Politicians would use the word to describe their opponent. It actually means a mongrel dog - according to the dictionary - but it can also mean a cowardly person. So politicians - back in the day - would call their opponents curs. There was an uproar over this offensive word and, though not banned, it was all but forbidden in respectable company. Today you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who knows what the word even means.

The n-word and the b-word and the f-word and the whole array of inappropriate language is here to stay. It may lose its meaning and it may fall far from fashion. But government can do little to change language behavior. You would think we would have learned that lesson by now.

But as they say, life's a b.

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Michael Jensen
Michael Jensen