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Unmentionables Unmentionables
by Jan Sand
2007-02-21 09:06:44
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In opposition to the inherent human motivation to gossip, spread the good word, disseminate knowledge throughout the world, there is another opposite drive to keep secrets and hold information away from general knowledge. Primitive societies frequently give their members true names known only to themselves to protect them from magic that could be used by evildoers to do nasty things. But, aside from formal religion, current society discounts magic as an effective discipline.

Modern society has more enlightened reasons for secrecy. Innovative inventors sometimes distrust the patent system, which is supposed to protect ideas and processes, and so do not permit their secrets to get out. There are some very dangerous procedures, which might encourage terrorists and irresponsible people such as psychotics and clever children to create disasters and these are kept away from the general public.

And there are manipulations of political power that can frequently be corrupt and so kept away from the electorate. Of late the current government security bureaucracies seem to be using this motivation more to hide their own inadequacies than to have any real protective function.

Somewhat distantly related to the most primitive inhibitions about revelation certain words and images are view by many with horror and disgust. It is perfectly normal and universal for human males to be delighted in viewing naked women. It is a very necessary element of our reproductive processes. Dissemination of these images is not only covertly accepted, it forms the basis for a billion dollar thriving industry. But still, there seems to be a huge negative feeling about this fascination and politicians regularly express public outrage about this basic and harmless activity in order to curry favor with a strangely oriented electorate.

This weird attitude extends to certain words. Asa Butcher recently explored the adventure of the word "vagina" in one US locality. It was suggested that "woowoo" was more acceptable. The letter "w" seems prominent in exorcising literary evil. Urine or piss is more acceptable as "weewee". This probably bestows strange associations on the many "w"s in Wallawalla, Washington and firmly confirms the secret obscenity of George W. Bush.

A late item in the New York Times describes a prize winning children's book that has been banned in many US libraries because a snake in the story has bitten a dog in its scrotum. It seems even dogs that walk all streets naked and openly exposed have secret body parts that are an affront to decent society.

But these prohibitions have for millennia extended to other areas. The true name of God (often written G-d) seems to have frightened people. The Phoenicians and the Hebrews and probably many others have forbidden the pronunciation of the name of God and this seems connected to the idea that these sounds actually evoke divine action in the manner of magic spells that seem to feel similarly about the names of demons and other conjuring figures.

The other forbidden words in language are mostly connected, as mentioned above, to sexual organs and sexual activity or to organs of elimination. Since body parts economically are associated with both these activities the intertwining of the prohibitions seems to cooperate well in language.

What makes human society even odder than normally supposed is that anybody over the age of four has been subjected to all the so-called forbidden language by film and late night TV and, at least, away from parental supervision, uses the language as a mark of maturity. Inserting dashes into forbidden words to make them printable becomes social insanity that fools nobody.

And, as with the deities, the curious custom of blanking out letters to pull the venom of a forbidden word is in common use. In a strange linguistic mutation of meaning the blanks themselves gain a quality of taboo.

By this logic the most offensive sentence in the language should be: "---- ---- ---- ---- ------ -- ----, ---- ---------- -------- ----."

   
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