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Carroll: Explosion of Blank-Words

This article is more than 10 years old.

Right now, the US Supreme Court is considering a case about decency standards in broadcasting. At issue is the Bush administration's decision to fine TV networks for airing "fleeting utterances" of...the F-word.

But WBUR's Senior Media Analyst John Carroll says we should really be examining the growing utterances of other blank-words.

TEXT OF COMMENTARY:

JOHN CARROLL: It all started with the N-word, the socially acceptable way to indicate the vilest racial slur in American parlance.

Just last month the Wall Street Journal reported that some Indiana voters told Barack Obama supporters, "I am not voting for that N-word."

But that justifiable euphemism has engendered a tsunami of copycat alphabetizing, almost none of which deserves such delicate treatment.

Just last week, for instance, the New York Times reported that Democrats on Capitol Hill have substituted the word "recovery" for "stimulus." The piece noted that "Speaker Nancy Pelosi caught herself last week just as she was about to let the S-word slip. 'We're not using the word stimulus,'" Pelosi said.

Except, of course, when they do.

Closer to home, Boston Globe word maven Jan Freeman wrote about the use of "bemused" - which has traditionally meant "puzzled" - to describe Obama's benign, unruffled presence. Dozens of newspapers and magazines, Freeman wrote, have "[used] the B-word this way."

Why she used the "B-word" formulation, however, is, well, puzzling.

Then again, all the kids are doing it, and have been for a while. During the presidential campaign, torture became the T-word, impeachment became the I-word, socialism became the S-word, brand became the B-word, lying became the L-word, and landslide also became the L-word.

It's enough to make you word-weary.

Which brings us to the G-word - as in Garfield, Bob, co-host of the weekly public radio program On the Media and an excellent columnist for Advertising Age magazine.

In his radio gig, however, Garfield turns out to be a serial alphabetizer. Here he is talking about radio personality Rush Limbaugh.

BOB GARFIELD: AND HE HAS ALREADY COMPLAINED ON THE AIR OF HOW DIFFICULT IT IS TO GO AFTER OBAMA, LEST HE BE TARRED WITH THE R-WORD.

CARROLL: That word would be "racist," for all of you keeping score at home.

Soon thereafter Garfield was at it again, talking with an editor at ProPublica, a non-profit investigative website.

GARFIELD: I WANT TO ASK YOU ABOUT THE S-WORD: S STANDING FOR SANDLER, THE BENEFACTORS OF PROPUBLICA. THEY HAVE A HISTORY OF OUT CUE: AFFILIATION WITH PROGRESSIVE POLITICAL CAUSES.

CARROLL: All due respect, there's only one word to describe this trend. And that would be the D-word.

Dopey.

John Carroll is Senior Media Analyst for WBUR and a mass communication professor at Boston University.

This program aired on December 3, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.

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