Friday, February 23, 2007

Eric! Did You Just Say the F-Word?

When I arrived at work and fired up my PC yesterday, I found an email from my boss in my inbox, asking me to take a look at the description we have in our system for one of the CDs we sell. She wanted me to reword it in the interests of political correctness. The CD in question is purported to "appeal to both Jews and non-Jews," which I guess is a problem. My boss said she had "just shuttered" (sic) when she read it.

It took me a moment to figure out what she was even talking about. As it happened, I had looked at the description just the day before, as I proofread a page on which we're advertising this CD in one of our upcoming catalogs. I hadn't batted an eye when I looked at it then, so I had to go back and look at it again to see where the problem was. I finally figured out that she was objecting to the use of the word "Jew," which in this case was totally appropriate. So I wrote an email in response to my boss, who wasn't in the office yet, explaining that there was nothing wrong with the description as it was. I offered to change it to something like "...listeners of all faiths..." if she felt really strongly about making a change, but that it really wasn't necessary.

I got a response from her a short time later. She had gotten a second opinion from someone who had confirmed my stance that the description was fine as it was. I assumed the matter was closed and went on about my day.

Surfing the 'net later in the morning in an attempt to track down the exact wording for a quoted review on one of our titles, I came across this article. Apparently a large number of school libraries are refusing to stock copies of the book The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron, the winner of this year's Newbery Medal (the award for significant children's literature), due to its one-time use of the word "scrotum." "Scrotum"! Many librarians feel there would be too many challenges to make stocking the book worthwhile.

Attention parents! Your ten-year-old knows (and likely uses, when you're out of earshot) the following words: nutsack, balls, nuts, cock, dick, and many more. Also, approximately 50% of them have a scrotum. If a reference to that area needs to be made, do you really have a problem with them knowing the actual name for it? While I'm not a huge fan of language censorship in general, I can understand that parents want books to contain language they consider age-appropriate for their children. This, though, is just stupid. If you're offended by "scrotum" and honestly think that reading it is going to damage your Your kid is going to be one poorly adjusted adult someday, I think.

Admittedly, it's entirely possible that the librarians are totally overreacting and there wouldn't be nearly as many challenges as they think, and that they're keeping the book out of their libraries on their own prejudices and using that as an excuse, or whatever. The fact that this is an issue at all just makes me tired.

At any rate, fast forward to the early afternoon. I return to my desk from my lunch break to find yet another email from my boss in my inbox. This one includes the text of an article she had found that indicated that the use of the word "jew" was indeed offensive to those who follow Judaism. I read the article, as she apparently didn't, and saw that the word in question was "jew," lowercase, used as a verb. Well, hell yes, that's offensive, and if I had seen that usage in one of our descriptions I damn well would have rewritten the description with no prompting, and then I would have sought out whoever had entered the description and rapped them over the head with a yardstick.

So I started to craft a response to clarify the usage cited in the article she had sent, and to reiterate that "Jew," as a proper noun referring to someone of the Jewish faith (as it was used in the description in question), is no more offensive than "Christian," "Muslim," "Buddhist," or whatever. Before I got very far into it, though, she came over to my desk for an impromptu meeting on the subject. She had gone balls-out (hehe) while I was at lunch, meeting with all the company higher-ups to explain how terribly offensive this word is, and she informed me that our new official company policy was never to use it.

Refusing to accede to the hysteria, I calmly explained her misinterpretation of the article she had sent and, once again, that "Jew," when used properly, is not a word to be feared. I told her that, outside of "Jew," there is no direct term for a person of the Jewish faith, and that the circumlocution necessary to avoid the word "Jew" (which implies that there is something wrong with the word) can be offensive in itself.

I think I finally got through to her with that little spiel. I think she finally realized what I had been trying to tell her all along, and I think the matter is finally over. I think. I like and respect my boss a great deal, but given the apparent craze of freaking out over ACTUAL, TECHNICAL NAMES for things, I wouldn't be too surprised if this issue rears its ugly head again sometime in the future.

What a pain in my scrotum.

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