You’ve heard the story for days now – how some professor in the U.S. of A. has bowdlerized two iconic works of Mark Twain by excising the terrible “n” word. The word is “nigger”. There, I said it. Perhaps for the first time in my life.
Well, not really. I have read that word, and heard that word, innumerable times, so at some points I must have said it too, as I discussed great works of literature, or reported on its contemporary usage. At one point in my teaching career, I actually taught an autobiographical book by the black comedian, Dick Gregory. Its title? “Nigger”.
I am not going to launch into a polemic about the arrogance of anyone who has the temerity to correct a great writer like Twain. Especially when Twain is no longer around to defend his choice of word.
I remember that at many points in my teaching career I repeated the words of another professor, S.I. Hayakawa. He said, “The word is not the thing.” The word . . . is not . . . the thing. So . . . the word “love” is not love. The word “racist” is not racism. The words “God damn you to hell” are not consigning you to eternal torment by the divine decree of an omnipotent deity.
You know, there is a word current today that tens of millions of Canadians and Americans would like to see consigned to hell. That word is snow. Here in the Canadian North, and out there on the Canadian Prairies, snow is normal. Even welcome. But in the banana belts and sunshine states, snow is now an evil word. As the planet warms and the next ice age approacheth, there will no doubt be assholes advocating the abolition of that “s” word.
Now I have a decision to make: Do I excise the word “asshole”? I like my asshole – it keeps me healthy. So . . . when I use the word “asshole” to describe a jerk, I am using it as a word to describe my state of mind, not as a thing. The thing itself is a marvelous construct of Creation.
And I am grateful for this opportunity to use some words that I do not recall actually using before – “bowdlerize” and “excise” and “temerity”. They are wonderful things.