Comment Policy Reminder

A periodic reminder.

Because I barely have time to write, I’ve been more lax than usual in enforcing the Commenting Policy. In particular:

Remember that the people under discussion are human beings. Comments that contain personal attacks about the post author or other commenters will be deleted. Repeated violators will be banned. Challenge the ideas of those with whom you disagree, not their patriotism, decency, or integrity.

While this remains on the books

The use of profanity stronger than that normally permitted on network television is prohibited. A substantial number of people read this site from an office or in a family environment.

I’ve become more lax on this front. Occasionally, only a strong vulgarity will express the desired intensity. But use them sparingly and, especially, refrain from combining them with a personal attack on another commenter.

FILED UNDER: Environment, OTB History, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Mikey says:

    That was me. My apologies to our hosts and also to JKB, I could have made my point without the name-calling.

  2. Tony W says:

    I have been hanging around OTB for well over a decade because of the quality of the posts, the commenting, and the moderation.

    These reminders are good, but it is heartening that various opinions are not only tolerated but encouraged – and done so in an environment that assures the best ideas rise to the top, not just the loudest voices.

    Many, many sites have simply turned off commenting because it becomes such a circus. That OTB has a robust and actually useful commentariat is a compliment to the leadership

  3. Kylopod says:

    On one of the forums I go to, recently they seem to have adopted a policy where you can use standard profanity including the f-word, but insult-words like “asshole” cause your comment to go into moderation.

  4. CSK says:

    I’ve been here since 2012. OTB undoubtedly has the sanest, most literate, best informed commenters on the web. Where else could you go and find people discussing cooking techniques, quantum mechanics, Broadway musicals, aviation, foreign policy, science fiction, football, NASA, lox…

  5. Sleeping Dog says:


    The Bloomsbury Group? Algonquin Round Table?

    The problem with the virtual world is that you aren’t breaking bread together.

  6. CSK says:

    @Sleeping Dog:
    Perhaps when the pandemic is over we can have regional get-togethers.

  7. wr says:

    Yeah, that was me, too. Sorry!

  8. MarkedMan says:

    Just curious about something. Since the first days of moderated or curse-checked sites, if I feel the need to curse I substituted an asterisk for strategic vowels. It seems to lessen the impact.

  9. CSK says:

    I think I refrained from using scatologies and obscenities except when discussing Trump, in which case I found them impossible to avoid.

  10. Not the IT Dept. says:

    Bring back the down-thumb; gets the message across in a simple manner.

  11. Kathy says:


    I hoped for a while the substitutions used in The Good Place would catch on. Things like Fork, Ash Hole, Shirt, etc. But that didn’t happen.

  12. CSK says:

    When you’re discussing Trump, substitutions or euphemisms just don’t cut it.

  13. EddieInCA says:

    As someone who occasionally (okay, often), breaks the vulgarity rule, I want to take this moment to apologize to fellow commenters. I will attempt to be better.

    And to our hosts, thank you for giving me this forum to express my opinion. I’m amazed how much I learn from the folks on this site. The myriad of professions represented by the regular commenters results in my learning something new several times a week. People like Kathy, JimBrown32, Luddite, Ozark, cracker, Teve, and constantly giving me a perspective I have to think about – especially those that challenge my preconceptions.

    So thanks to all of you ash holes. No go fork yourselves. I have shirt to do.

  14. Sleeping Dog says:


    That is something I was thinking about suggesting when Covid hit. Beyond us and Jen, I believe there are a couple of other regular readers, infrequent commentators who live in Essex Cty or southern NH.

    In about 3 months the weather will be warm enough to gather outside and hopefully we’ll all have been vaccinated by that time. But sometime over the summer.

  15. CSK says:

    Your last line made me laugh out loud. Thanks.

    I know this is going to sound a bit weird, but having OTB to go to helped me through the vigils at both my parents’ deathbeds.

  16. CSK says:

    @Sleeping Dog:
    I look forward to it.

  17. Jen says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    Count me in!

  18. mattbernius says:

    @Not the IT Dept.:

    Bring back the down-thumb; gets the message across in a simple manner.

    Contrarian viewpoint, I think the site is way better without it. First, there are no “why does everyone downvote me?!” comments. Second, have no doubt that downvotes feel trolls almost as well as people directly responding.

    Plus, as of late, folks have been doing an admirable job of ignoring the shirt-posting trolls when they recently popped their heads up.

    TL;DR: Downvote buttons might make you feel better for a moment, but ultimately they are just troll food in almost all cases.

  19. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @CSK: Speaking of Lox—it is quite a delicious breakfast AND a really good gangster-smooth rap from the late 90s-early aughts. Only on OTB……

  20. Michael Cain says:

    @Kathy: At a site where I occasionally do some of the maintenance, “fish” is the traditional replacement. More than one new reader has remarked that the use of “fishing” as an adjective — as in, “this is such a fishing mess” — confused them until they figured it out.

  21. Gustopher says:


    Contrarian viewpoint, I think the site is way better without it. First, there are no “why does everyone downvote me?!” comments. Second, have no doubt that downvotes feel trolls almost as well as people directly responding.

    Agreed. I was skeptical when James got rid of them, but it changed the tenor of the site for the better. I was eagerly waiting for it to get bad, so I could say “I told you so”, but it never did.

    Even now, with whatever outrage triggered our host’s rancor, it’s better than it was.

  22. Flat Earth Luddite says:

    Even now, with whatever outrage triggered our host’s rancor, it’s better than it was.

    I didn’t feel any rancor in the reminder, maybe a touch of parental “sigh, c’mon kids.” Still, it is nice to have a group where it’s (mostly) adults having (mostly) adult conversations, isn’t it? Thanks everyone, and especially to our hosts!

  23. R. Dave says:

    I’ve always thought that a rule permitting both profanity and personal insults if and only if they’re done in the Shakespearan / Elizabethan style could be good. Most people won’t find it worth the trouble to come up with something, but if they do, the whole thing will just be so amusing that it could actually turn a disdainful interaction into more of a good natured ribbing. I mean, if someone I was arguing with referred to me as “that trunk of humours, that bolting-hutch of beastliness, that swollen parcel of dropsies, that huge bombard of sack, that stuffed cloak-bag of guts, that roasted Manningtree ox with pudding in his belly, that reverend vice, that grey Iniquity, that father ruffian, that vanity in years”, how could I not feel somewhat endeared to them?

  24. CSK says:

    R. Dave:

    “…that huge bombard of sack, that stuffed cloak-bag of guts, that roasted Manningtree ox with pudding in his belly…” Gee, three perfect descriptions of Trump.

    “You stinking poxy bastard” is pretty good, too.

  25. Mister Bluster says:

    @R. Dave:

    I think Ren Hoek gets the point across: “Stimpee!. You bloated sack of protoplasm!”

  26. CSK says:

    @Mister Bluster:
    Yes, but insults in Middle or Elizabethan English have a certain je ne sais quoi.

  27. Flat Earth Luddite says:

    @Mister Bluster:
    Well, I did say “mostly” (snarky grin emoji).

    Parents of our daughter’s friends were appalled that our juvenile daughter got to stay up late on Friday night to watch Ren & Stimpy with her cat. OTOH, I preferred that world view to the one on Melrose Place/90210.

  28. Michael Reynolds says:

    Supposedly bad language is one of the many absurd things conservatives obsessed over at various times – long hair, rock and roll, living together without marriage, marijuana – that they later realized was unimportant. Or more accurately, given the people we’re talking about, unprofitable.

    Again: words are tools, they are not magic. You can call a screwdriver a twisty propeller, but it remains a screwdriver. Changing the word from fuck to f**k is ludicrous. It’s magical thinking. It’s irrational. It’s superstition.

    Unfortunately now the word police are more often progressives or liberals than conservatives. Which doesn’t alter the fact that they’re every bit as stupid as their conservative predecessors.

    I can do far more damage with fat or ugly, both ‘acceptable’ words, than I can with fuck. And it works just as well with any euphemism for fat or ugly. Because it’s not about the word, people, it’s about the intention.

  29. Mister Bluster says:

    @Flat Earth Luddite:..Parents of our daughter’s friends were appalled that our juvenile daughter got to stay up late on Friday night to watch Ren & Stimpy with her cat.

    You are obviously enlightened parents. I’m sure your kid will turn out just fine.
    My dad was an employee of Eastman Kodak in Rochester NY when I was in grade school in the ’50s.
    Every Christmas Kodak would invite their employees to bring their kids to a cartoon festival at the company auditorium. How could my parents have known that us boomers watching Donald and Daisy Duck running around with no pants on would lead to the skinny dipping and streaking that we did in the ’60s?

  30. Dutchgirl says:

    @R. Dave: Reminded me of this:

  31. Dutchgirl says:

    Bah, something went wrong. It’s supposed to be a link to the Shakespearean Insults Generator.

  32. Kylopod says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Supposedly bad language is one of the many absurd things conservatives obsessed over at various times

    During the 1960 election, Nixon criticized former President Truman for using the word “hell”–which of course seems pretty ironic given what we now know about Nixon’s, um, vocabulary preferences.

    This kind of thing died down over time because swearing is just a lot less taboo than it used to be, and while there are still those who decry it, it’s filtered even into some of the most culturally conservative circles. There’s even a level on which it’s encouraged on the right–particularly for the tough, alpha image they like to convey (which itself is somewhat of an outdated frame). There are plenty of examples of hypocrisy regarding swearing (e.g. Dennis Prager supporting Trump after claiming he’d never vote for a foulmouthed candidate), but there are also evolving generational mores that are reflected even between different right-wingers.

    Taboo language is still an issue today, but the focus tends to be more on racial and other epithets than on the traditional idea of profanity or obscenity.

  33. MarkedMan says:

    @R. Dave: I like this:
    Trump: A most notable coward, an infinite and endless liar, an hourly promise breaker, the owner of no one good quality

    Our crazy Trumpers: Away, you starvelling, you elf-skin, you dried neat’s-tongue, bull’s-pizzle, you stock-fish!

    Cruz: I must tell you friendly in your ear, sell when you can, you are not for all market

    Pelosi, to McCarthy: I scorn you, scurvy companion

    And the QAnon-era: More of your conversation would infect my brain

  34. MarkedMan says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Changing the word from fuck to f**k is ludicrous

    I started, and continue, doing it for very practical reasons. I’ve participated in a lot of user’s groups for many years, and a significant number of which would automatically delete a comment that included profanity. I made it a habit to asterisk any profanity in any posts so it became automatic and I didn’t have to think about whether it was allowed in a particular group. People may think “I am pigeon-liver’d and lack gall” and they may say of me, “Thou lily-liver’d boy”, but I don’t give a f*ck what they think…

  35. MarkedMan says:

    @Kylopod: There are cultural issues to swearing when I’m dealing with people from different cultures, and it’s a net negative to go there. At this point in my life, I rarely swear out loud and, of course, never did in professional correspondence, and don’t really miss it. As Michael (more or less) pointed out, cursing is just vocabulary these days, more of an interjection than a meaningful insult. You need to add some non-swear words into the mix in order to get a rise. “Mother” works well for this purpose. And adding “Drizzle”, “Putrid”, “Limp”, “Warty”, etc to various curse words can call up a much more vivid and offensive picture than the curse word alone ever can.

  36. CSK says:


    A fine old Scots term for Trump: Gillie-wet-foot.

    It means a businessman who swindles, or gets into debt and then flees.


  37. James Joyner says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Having grown up on the comic stylings of Eddie Murphy and then spending my college and early adult years in the Army, I almost certainly use foul language more than most. I more-or-less banned it here for years both because it tended to cheapen the discourse and because I had the sense that many employer-based IT systems actively filtered sites that had NSFW language. The “F-word” is especially problematic in that its original meaning makes it prolific on pornographic sites.

  38. MarkedMan says:

    I participated in a few sites that would actually substitute other words for swear words. Much hilarity ensued. From Wiki:

    Some words that have been filtered accidentally can become replacements for profane words. One example of this is found on the Myst forum Mystcommunity. There, the word ‘manuscript’ was accidentally censored for containing the word ‘anus’, which resulted in ‘m****cript’. The word was adopted as a replacement swear and carried over when the forum moved, and many substitutes, such as ” ‘scripting “, are used (though mostly by the older community members).

    Place names may be filtered out unintentionally due to containing portions of swear words. In the early years of the internet, the British place name Penistone was often filtered out from spam and swear filters

  39. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I was a union carpenter. I speak as a union carpenter and I tend to write as a union carpenter speaks. Which means I can be blunt and coarse in my language. It’s probably a fools errand but I’ll try to remember and sand off some of the rough edges.

  40. Michael Reynolds says:


    Taboo language is still an issue today, but the focus tends to be more on racial and other epithets than on the traditional idea of profanity or obscenity.

    That makes far more sense than blasphemy as a rationale. But here, too, it’s magical thinking. In my life I’ve gone through probably six different versions of the ‘proper’ way to refer to Black people. (Including now the capitalized ‘Black’ which was offensive not so many years ago.) We change the terminology and yet a white cop still choked a black man to death in front of his fellow officers of the law, and members of the public.

    I wrote a three volume alt-history of WW2 and had to resort to ‘nigra,’ a word learned in my childhood on the Redneck Riviera, as a polite alternative to what they really meant. It’s frustrating when you’re trying to use fiction to teach history, including the history of racism in the military, but are forced to soft-pedal the very evil you’re trying to condemn.

    Of course I have nothing like the grudge Mark Twain would have, if still alive. He writes a brilliant takedown of racism in Huckleberry Finn, only to be denounced as a racist and have his books banned in some schools. A classic liberal self-own. LOTR, which I love, is a pretty racist book, but doesn’t use the N word. That’s OK. But Twain bravely, and way ahead of his time, taking on racism, is now denounced as racist.


    I started, and continue, doing it for very practical reasons.

    I do as well, same reasons.

    @James Joyner:

    Oh, I understand. See remark about my WW2 books above.

  41. Michael Reynolds says:

    I do want to suggest one very important carve-out: it is not physically possible, or psychologically healthy, when assembling an IKEA product, to suppress the F word.

  42. MarkedMan says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    He writes a brilliant takedown of racism in Huckleberry Finn, only to be denounced as a racist and have his books banned in some schools.

    If that’s true, then its yet another example of the purity police run amok. But the two or three times I’ve heard of that book being “banned” it was a lot more nuanced than that. First, it wasn’t banned, as it was still in the library and on the recommended reading list. Instead it was removed as a class book, one that would be read from and discussed in class. I remember an African American man calling into a radio show saying he thought that it just wasn’t appropriate for high school anymore, and recounted being one of the few AA’s in his class while the kids behaved, well, like high school kids being given permission to say “bad words”. It was excruciatingly embarrassing for him and he felt it was better to be dealt with at the college level. At least to him, the kids weren’t mature enough to get beyond the language and the words and have a mature discussion.

  43. MarkedMan says:

    @Michael Reynolds: It’s a shame they don’t use any words in IKEA manuals, because a multi-language translation of that word into Swedish would be very useful. Somehow I would get more satisfaction cursing my Farfenugen out in the original tongue.

  44. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    the N word

    While I generally agree that changing fuck to f*ck is silly, and that a word is a word and a screwdriver is a screwdriver, there’s more going on than just identifying something. There’s an acknowledgement of the other person’s sensitivities.

    And, with the n-word, there’s an acknowledgement of the way it has been used for centuries to denigrate and demean Blacks by our forbearers. For the sins of our kind, we have to do penance, and cannot say “nigger”.

    (Except when using it to distinguish it from literally saying “the n word”, and a few other esoteric and rare instances)

    The folks who insist on saying the full word, and are really upset that n-words can say it, are people who do not accept this cultural guilt. And, they’re bad people.

    White kids on TikTok lipsyncing to their favorite rap performatively make their faces go entirely blank and expressionless for the duration of the word. That seems like the right approach. It’s very different having a white person saying it than a black person. It’s not for us.

    Regarding Huck Finn, I think there are three choices — don’t teach it, change the word, or teach it in the original and deal with the consequences of a whole lot of 9th graders using the full n-word over and over (particularly problematic if there are only a few Black kids in the class).

    I’m in favor of just changing the word. We read the works of Homer, Tolstoy and Kundera in translation to make it accessible, so why not Twain? And it really is about making the work accessible rather than getting tied up in the n-word.

    Discuss the decision in class, and why, and let them make up their own minds as to whether it is silly over-protective nonsense or not, but then teach from a text with the word changed.

    Would Mark Twain have wanted that? Would he be excited that his work is still relevant 150 years later, and that society has progressed like his title character and is thinking of Blacks as people? Or would he be bitter because each word on the page is sacred? It doesn’t matter — he’s dead, and seems intent of staying that way.

    I prefer the word “robot.” The czech word for “worker”, popularized in English by the translation of Rossum’s Universal Robots. It’s intrusive enough of a change that it’s not really hiding the change, and creates the level of distinction between humans and robots that mirrors the distinction between whites and blacks in 1800s southern society — they were not supposed to mix.

    And it allows a conversation about how the slaves weren’t valued for more than their labor.

    And, if Twain rises from the dead, he can make his views known, and we can consider accommodating them while he wanders around eating people’s brains. But the work is in public domain, so screw Zombie Mark Twain’s desires, Huck Finn belongs to all of us.

  45. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    I wrote a three volume alt-history of WW2 and had to resort to ‘nigra’

    I’m sorry that both you and Ben Shapiro cannot use the full n-word.

  46. Gustopher says:


    For the sins of our kind, we have to do penance, and cannot say “n—–”.

    In Germany, it is illegal to glorify the Nazis. Pretty much all of the actual Nazis of the time are dead by now, but it is illegal.

    I think of the n-word the same way. It’s not illegal, but it’s a reminder of our past, and the legacy of harm we have inherited.

  47. Roger says:

    I prefer the word “robot.”

    I assume you wrote this knowing that the Huck Finn robot edition actually exists and can be purchased on Amazon. It may make for an entertaining read and raises issues that might be easier to discuss with 9th graders, but to me at least it derails the most important point the book makes: Jim was treated as less than human, but, unlike a robot, he never truly was less than human. He was, instead, the most decent man in the book. Making that point with a robot rather than a man might raise other interesting questions about the nature of artificial intelligence, but it diminishes the point Twain actually made.

  48. Gustopher says:

    @Roger: Calling a person a robot doesn’t make them a robot.

    Just like calling a person the n-word doesn’t make them not a person, no matter what the person calling them that might think.

    The n-word now is a derogatory word for Black people. Back then it separated Blacks from People. The current n-word doesn’t capture that as well as robot.

  49. Gustopher says:

    @Roger: And in Rossum’s Universal Robots, the robots are indistinguishable from humans, which ends up being the whole point of it — not that I expect 9th graders to know that.

    It’s just a fun-fact that makes the choice of robot in this case harken back to the original use of the word. It was essentially a factory that made lower-class people.

  50. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Gustopher: There’s an acknowledgement of the other person’s sensitivities.

    This is me acknowledging their sensitivities: They need to grow the F*ck up. If my Southern Babtist Aunt who would not tolerate the drinking of alcohol in her home, could answer my saying, “Who the f*ck are you and what the f*ck do you want?**” (in her deep deep Texas accent), “Tom? This is your Aunt Jean….” (and making me feel as small as the smallest ant)

    Here’s to the sweetest, most tolerant S Baptist in my family.

    **my mother had just died and my little Sis was passing me the phone like, “You deal with this salesman.”

  51. Jax says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: I’m with you, man. You can’t work cattle without an F-bomb or 40. They’re….sentence enhancers. 😉

  52. The Q says:

    Whats the big sweat? A recent study shows cursing a sign of intelligence. A 2015 study, authored by Professor Jay, found well-educated people were better at coming up with swear words than people with less words in their vocabulary.

    For the study, participants were asked to list as many words that start with F, A or S in one minute. Next they had to come up with curse words that start with the same three letters. The study found those who came up with the most F, A and S words also managed to produce the most swear words.

    “Language is correlated with intelligence. People that are good at language are good at generating a swearing vocabulary,” Professor Jay said.

    Mr. Joyner, I believe our erudite commentariat is merely expressing ourselves by utilizing the full command of the language! Yippee ki yay Maternal progenitor fornicator

  53. James Joyner says:

    @Gustopher: I’m reminded of a recent standup bit from our greatest living cultural critic:

    Dave Chappelle: Why can I say nigger on TV, but not faggot?

    Manager: Because, you’re not gay.

    Dave Chappelle: Well, I’m not a nigger either.

  54. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @James Joyner: Chris Rock summed up Dave’s point–“I love Black Folks….but I hate niggas”

    My grandfather taught me when I was a boy that Niggers were people (of any color) who lived in a state of willful ignorance. He said it meant a “hard head” and was a nickname for those large knobs they tie large ships up to a Ports.

    I never thought to look up his story about port equipment–but his definition always stuck with me. Even thought it was probably only a psychological trick so I would never personally identify with the word when I was inevitability called it–it worked. I’ll never forget walking past a group of white kids as a teenager when a smart ass blurted out “nigger”–knowing I’d never know who said it. I really didn’t think anything of it–I looked around to the left and right and looked back to the white teens and said, “Where?!?!?” and kept walking.

    I shit you not–I was playing golf when the capitol riots started and I saw several group texts and FB group posts that basically said :”look at these OR somebody stop these “niggers”—so I guess my grandpa wasnt the only guy explaining the word this way. I believe I heard George Lopez do a similar routine about a similar dynamic in the Hispanic community.

    Or course a lot of the tabooness of the N-word is complicated because we have tried to take the sting out it by using a different enunciation “nigga” to have a brotherly connotation as opposed to niggER–which still carries derogatory meaning. “Nigga” is used pretty extensively in many social settings–including amongst white kids who are into black culture. It used to be that it was understood that no white person could use even the brotherly “nigga” but I don’t think that rule is as hard and fast with younger black men and teens these days.

    Oddly, I belong to a pretty large FB group of old school 80s rap which at time goes a little political—that circle has taken to calling Black Republicans “ERs”–which is a shortened version of “NiggER”—and the opposite of “Nigga”.

  55. Kylopod says:

    And on that note, I present this:

    (Another chapter in “Could they make this today?”)

  56. Kylopod says:

    @Jim Brown 32:

    I believe I heard George Lopez do a similar routine about a similar dynamic in the Hispanic community.

    For that matter there’s the issue of its use among non-black Hispanics (including several famous rappers). I think we can agree it’s a unique word–it isn’t like other slurs for other groups (even though some people try to make it that way).

    Anyone remember the Orgasm Magazine scene from Woody Allen’s Bananas? (If you haven’t seen it, it’s here.) I once had an experience along those lines, except it didn’t involve a sex magazine–it involved the N-word, or more specifically, a certain book by Randall Kennedy about that word. I was in the library, and I took the book off the shelf intending to borrow it. But suddenly I became self-conscious about other people seeing me taking it out, since I was a white guy in a library with a lot of black people, including some of the checkout people (this was the Baltimore area). So I quickly sandwiched the book between two other books I was carrying and pointed the binding toward my chest. I was afraid of a situation where the checkout person would see the book–even if they realized it was a sociological examination of the topic, there would still be at least one awkward moment where they’d stare in shock at the title. So I went to self-checkout (this was almost 20 years ago when self-checkout was very new). A few weeks later the book was overdue, which was a real problem for me, because in this library system the policy was that whenever you had anything overdue, anytime you visited the library the checkout people had to read the overdue titles aloud to remind you they needed to be returned. Not wanting to face anyone in person with this book, I slipped it into the return slot outside the library building.

    The book was a good read.

  57. Michael Reynolds says:


    There’s an acknowledgement of the other person’s sensitivities.

    Oh, I agree, and we rightfully should be sensitive. But the N word is unique, it carries megatons of baggage with it, so that to my mind the use of it should be limited to places where it is historically accurate – say, coming out of the mouth of a young river rat on the Mississippi. Or, in a rather more humble literary work, to show what a Black medic would have endured serving in WW2.

    Unfortunately many people on the left refuse to recognize that not every out-group is the moral equivalent of Black people, or Indians. My daughter is Chinese. This country treated 19th and early 20th century Chinese immigrants very badly. But they weren’t enslaved for 200 years, nor were they ethnically-cleansed off their own land. Now everybody wants their own taboo words. You can’t be a victim without some ‘deeply hurtful’ taboo words. It seems we need a crash program to develop more euphemisms, because making up new words is all it takes to make the world a better place.

    That and a meme or two.

    It’s not a minor thing when Huckleberry Finn is taken off reading lists. Maya Angelou is not a replacement. HF gives us a likable, identifiable white narrator speaking to a white audience and by virtue of his attractiveness as a character, and in particular because he’s no goody two-shoes, he brings white readers along with him. It’s brilliant. It’s what, 150 years later, I’m still trying to do. Or was. Because it is no longer possible to seduce the reader in the way that Twain did. No subtlety is allowed in the current atmosphere, moral lessons must be delivered with the Sledgehammer of Virtue Signaling.

    Will that work? Oh, sure, because we all know teenagers are receptive to ponderous lectures on proper behavior. We wouldn’t want to try and persuade, far better to lay down the law, prescribe behavior and police speech. Teens love that.

  58. Gustopher says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I love Huckleberry Finn. I think extraordinary efforts should be made to keep it on the reading lists. It’s the first modern American novel, it covers a subject that so much of the country tries to ignore in our history, and it has a message that is still needed today.

    But, as you note, the n-word is unique. It carries megatons of baggage. There is no other word that I can think of with that much power.

    If you’re the one black kid in a class of white kids, do you want those white kids feeling empowered to use that word? Because they will. And many will use it hatefully. And many will use it hatefully under the cover of discussing Huck Finn just to hurt that black kid.

    Kids are cruel. And we are currently dealing with a wave of white supremacy. That’s going to be what happens.

    It’s also exactly what the book pushes against with the story it tells.

    That’s why I favor the “robot” solution. It keeps the book. It’s preposterously heavy-handed, and will get eye-rolls because it is stupid. It forces a complicated and important discussion about political correctness. And it takes away the ability of smug little white racist kids to use the n-word in the “right” way, as a weapon to hurt that black kid — because there is no right way.

    It’s a deeply imperfect solution.

    And, maybe in 20 years, we will hit a point where the n-word doesn’t have quite as much power to hurt, and we can restore the work for historical accuracy. And your book can get republished with a little blurb on the cover that says “now with niggers, as the author intended.”

    You’ll call this all Virtue Signaling, and you’re right, it is. People have always performatively signaled their values, though, and the only thing different about virtue signaling is that it’s signaling support for the oppressed and downtrodden.

    It’s the flip side to being performatively cruel and spiteful — from the far right with their hatred to the asshole left with their “well, Texas voted for this, let them suffer, hur, hur.” Vice signaling is far more common.

    If someone wants to say “I stand with the oppressed and abused,” I say good. Even if they’re a hypocrite it’s an aspirational statement that they will try to live up to.

    I’ll roll my eyes when they get all offended about the “r-word” or the “t-word” or the “e-word” (I’m pretty sure there’s no e-word… endocrinologist?) and I’ll think they’re stupid. But they’re being stupid attempting to protect others rather than hurting others.

    (If there’s a good case to be made that virtue signaling leads to so much vice signaling that it makes the world a worse place, im open to that…)

  59. Mister Bluster says:

    @Kylopod:..Another chapter

    When I was in Jr. High School circa 1961 a fag was a cigarette.

  60. Kylopod says:

    @Mister Bluster:

    When I was in Jr. High School circa 1961 a fag was a cigarette.

    I’ve heard it still is in England.

  61. Stormy Dragon says:


    I prefer the word “robot.” The czech word for “worker”

    I don’t speak Czech, but my understanding is the meaning is closer to “serf” than “worker”. It’s not full on slave, but there’s a very strong implication that the worker’s participation is not voluntary.

  62. Michael Reynolds says:

    It’s the old, ‘this is why we can’t have nice things,’ issue. You get 20 kids in a class, 18 of them will understand – can be made to understand – the weight of race as a topic, the power that they’re playing with. And the other two act like jackasses. So we end up having everything defined by the lowest common denominator.

    It’s easier in the book-to-reader relationship because readers self-select, and the data flow is almost all one way, me to them. I just get the 18, a teacher has all 20. I don’t have a parent’s association to deal with.

    Part of the problem in YA and middle grade is that there are two distinct markets: the institutional market, which is schools and libraries, and the retail market, which is me and a reader with no intervening institutions. What’s happened is that the institutional market has imposed its standards on the retail market. But teachers know how to teach a book, they don’t know how to market a book.

    Add in the abject cowardice of publishers when faced by any self-appointed ‘advocate’ and you get what we have now: a YA market underperforming even as books generally are having a good year. Look at Amazon’s bestsellers – the top spots are dominated by Harry Potter versions, which is not a sign that Harry is unstoppable, but that many writers – like me – have just walked away, and the bibliotherapeutic books the institutional market loves don’t move in the retail environment.

  63. Tony W says:

    This is a very good treatise on slurs, written back in 2015 as we rounded out the Obama administration and the racist Republican backlash was on the rise.