I suppose it began with “The ‘N’ Word.” Journalists, particularly in broadcast media, had to find a way to indicate that the word “nigger” had been employed by someone, somewhere, yet it was forbidden to use the word at all. Of course the term offends, it’s odious, no one disputes that.
Yet to be forced to write about the use of that word by such a childish locution — one that belongs in the “poo-poo, ca-ca” realm of diction — descends to the depths of silliness.
But lo, the habit has proliferated, and journalists and public speakers of all kinds now regularly employ the phrase “the ‘X’ word” to indicate almost anything. And they preen on doing it. They think they’re being clever.
“The ‘L’ word” — “liberal.” “The ‘R’ word” — recession. “The ‘B’ word” — bitch.
AN EASY SEARCH of the news turns up examples of the blight everywhere.
“Dealing With the ‘D’ Word,” by Clark S. Judge, National Review Online, April 29. “Democrat”? “Depression”? No. “Dysfunction.”
“It is time for someone to drop the ‘N-Bomb’ on Pastor Jeremiah Wright: Nut.” Michael Graham, The Boston Herald, April 29 (“Lefty Pastor Fine for the Lunatic Fringe“), April 29.
“Caterpillar Prices, Runaway Rice Make Consumers Hiss the ‘I’ Word,” Simon Kennedy, Bloomberg, April 29. You have to read to the fourth paragraph to find the word in question: Inflation.
“Will India Raise the N-Word With Iran?” Timesnow.tv, April 29. Here, the “N” means “nuclear.”
“The F Word Means You’re Fired,” The Ladders/Businesswire, April 28. At least somebody’s doing something — but just about the use, not the usage.
ENOUGH. Let us consign “The ‘X’ Word” to its proper hell, alongside such other clevernesses as “Blank, Lies, and Blank,” and “He’s (They’re) Ba-a-a-ack!” Some publications may choose to use asterisks or hyphens to bowdlerize offensive terms. Broadcasters can resort to an electronic beep.
If a broadcaster needs to make a point, he can always spell. I called a local talk show here in Massachusetts a few years back to object to the Supreme Judicial Court’s ruling allowing so-called “gay marriage.” I said, “This will mean that homosexuality has to be taught in sex-ed classes. I have two boys in public school. I don’t want their schools teaching them to bee-asterisk-asterisk-tee eff-asterisk-asterisk-kay.” It got on the air.
“The ‘X’ Word” is a cliche. We in journalism are supposed to avoid them, not revel in them.