!@#$%@&ed $%^*ing words

I don’t believe in swear words. Wait–you don’t believe me, do you? And you shouldn’t. I curse all the time.  Less so among some people, more so in certain circumstances.  But enough to say that I do it. But “swear words,” “curse words,” “bad words,” whatever you want to call them–they don’t exist.  There are simply words, and they are strung together to express some feeling, thought, fact, et cetera, with a certain intent.  The key is pragmatics.  That separates “the bloody car,” which is covered in blood, from “the bloody car,” which is in someway offensive at the moment.  I can say “fuck” in a manner such that it seems perfectly fit for conversation over tea with the queen and I can say something completely mundane and make your blood boil.  Euphemisms, while sometimes fun, do not mask meaning or intent.  If you know that I mean “fuck” when I say “freak” why bother saying something other than what I mean?

I could go on, but that’s sufficient to tell you that there’s yet another attack on literature. If you haven’t yet heard, Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn will be re-released.  This time, without “the n-word.” As a fellow Missourian, I feel compelled to speak out in defense of Mark Twain’s work. Despite my cursing “all the time,” I do not make use of that word. I don’t have much use for racial slurs in general.  I bristle at the word “dyke” rolling off most tongues.  But whether or not it’s a word I’d like to use or hear is not the issue.  The issue is whether it is right to alter–to sugarcoat–our literature and therefore our history.

In this new edition, 219 times the “the n-word” will be changed to “slave” (“injun” will also be replaced). First let’s talk about how you simply cannot alter classical literature.  Then we’ll talk about how “the n-word” actually is kind of a big party of the story, understanding the racism of the time, and all that jazz.  We’ll take a moment to address that “slave” really doesn’t have the same ring to it.  Then we’ll end with “anyone reading the book and seeing ‘slave’ will understand that to mean ‘derogatory term for person of African descent’ anyway.”

The first time this issue was brought to my attention was freshman year of high school.  We had been assigned to read what would become my all time favorite book–To Kill a Mockingbird. As you may know, that book also includes use of “the n-word.” That wasn’t too startling.  I was aware of when the book was written, and I have (and had) a passable knowledge of American history.  I wasn’t too surprised that during class discussions, the teacher said “the n word” instead of saying the actual word.  It is, after all, an unsavory term. What was quite startling, was having my paper edited to say “n*” at all my quotations I had pulled from the book.  We all knew what the book said–we all read it. Why pretend it said something it didn’t? The Huck Finn case is going to allow that pretending to stretch further.  Not only in paper writing and class discussing, but in reading the book as well.  That is an outrage, and it makes me sick to think about the future of American education.

Now I think I’ll go reread some of Twain’s stuff.  As it was written.  While I still can.

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