Wednesday, August 23, 2006

While I was away

While I was offline last weekend a great many things happened in the book world, and when I came back I made a fairly perfunctory effort to catch up with them. And the odd thing was, having taken a very quick scan of the published news stories, I decided that I really didn't need to bother about most of them.

But there were a couple of items which upset my digestion somewhat, and which went further towards convincing me that America, a country that I once regarded as the fount of all things good, is steadily losing its mind.

Bookslut, for instance, reported that novelist Joshilyn Jackson was arrested and jailed because she had her maiden name on her social security card and her married name on her driver's licence.

We also discover that the New York Times declined to print the title of a book called Chess Bitch. Bitch, it seems, is a naughty word. And the Christian Science Monitor won't print Bookslut either; it refers to said blog (when it absolutely has to) as 'book plus a vulgar term for a woman with loose morals'.

As for the rest of the stuff that accumulated in my absence, notably emails, please be patient. I am getting through them as and when.


Anonymous said...

The refusal to print the word "bitch" is a U.S. vs. U.K. English thing. In the U.S., it's considered a dirty word unless you're a dog breeder talking about a female specimen.

Stephen said...

"Bitch" is a dirty word in UK English too (female dogs again excepted). The difference is that British newspapers seem to be a bit more grown-up than their US counterparts in their attitude towards what words it is safe to let their readers see.

Dick Headley said...

It does seem prudish on the face of it. But it raises the perennial question of where to draw the line. Would Chess Ho be OK? How about Book C**t?

Anonymous said...

It appears that young Joshilyn was actually arrested for driving without a license (she didn't just forget it--it was cancelled). Sorry, Joshilyn, but it's against the law. You can read her babblings and decide for yourself at

She mumbles about an arrest warrant and then insists there wasn't one. Either way, Miss, you don't get to drive here if you're not licensed to do so.

I spent 25 years as a cop here in the U.S. and grew weary of the twisted stories that come out of valid arrests.

Sapphire said...

A fellow countryman of yours (no one of note) recently likened the current state of the US to the eventual fall of Rome. I wouldn't be surprised at all were that to happen. I just want out of here before it happens.

Anonymous said...

So the New York Times doesn't even dare to print the word 'bitch'? This ain't good.

The fear of certain words (and the invention of euphemisms to cover the embarrassment they cause), is an intriguing business. If, as seems to be the case, we are doing away altogether with taboo words in the UK, this would be remarkable: I don't know of a single human society which has done without them thus far.

It's interesting that the US should remain so much more puritanical (linguistically, at least) than the UK. Is this to do with the overtly Puritanical origins of the US? Perhaps an American reader could enlighten us.

Of course, there is considerable cultural variation in the words honoured (or disgraced) with taboo status. Some societies, for example, have forbidden the articulation of the name of God; others find words to do with hell and the devil infintely more offensive than words to do with the human body and its functions.

The trouble with euphemisms is that they only work where it is the word that is found embarrassing, and not the thing it denotes. Thus "rooster" (I rely here on H.L. Mencken) works perfectly as a euphemism for 'cock'; but as soon as everyone realises that a bathroom is a toilet, you have to call it a washroom, and as soon as everyone realises that a washroom is a bathroom, you have to call it (God help us) a lounge, and so on. Language is constantly on the run, with embarrassment in hot pursuit.

But it's not altogether a laughing matter, as D.H. Lawrence and James Joyce (to name but half a dozen) could testify. And it's hardly too much to say that Lennie Bruce died so that the GOB could entertain us from time to time with bawdy items unveiled by killjoy euphemism.

In his admittedly strange way, Lennie Bruce was a great man. Perhaps his most famous contribution to the debate about what may and may not be decently expressed was his observation (variously phrased) that if God made the human body and the human body is dirty, 'the fault lies with the manufacturer'.

It's a good point, and we should never take lightly the right to say such things. Many would stop us if they could.

Paul Ekert said...

Well it does sound as though it is a legit arrest to me. She had a year of looking at a driving licence that had the wrong name on it and she never bothered to think "gee I wonder what would happen if I ever got pulled over and have two ID's on me?"

It's a bad world out there. Wrong miss-matched ID could mean Terrorist. If she had been a bomber (not a writer) and the cop had "let her off because she was a soccer-mom and so must be okay..." and she had been party to some kind of mass murder... ???

Well how would he sleep at night?

It's sad she got caught up in an administrative nightmare, its sad she was arrested because a clerk file left instead of right, but she could have checked her driving license any time in the last year... It's not rocket science now is it?

Amol said...

There seems to be a growing tendency in tody's media and the state, to treat it's adult, mature citizens as children. It tries to protect them from things that don't seem to matter and doesn't when it needs to. There is so much filth and violence out there, it would be nice to see some effort put into protecting the citizenry from it instead wasting it on innocuous things like the word "bitch".

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