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25 Februar 2007 @ 16:33
Libbing the library  

By now you have no doubt already heard about the brouhaha occasioned by the appearance of a certain word in a book called The Higher Power of Lucky, by Susan Patron. I have little to add to the discussion, and will merely observe that:

  1. The New York Times has an excellent sense of comedic timing. At the end of Julie Bosman's article ("With One Word, Children’s Book Sets Off Uproar") are the following two paragraphs:

    Ms. Nilsson, reached at Sunnyside Elementary School in Durango, Colo., said she had heard from dozens of librarians who agreed with her stance. “I don’t want to start an issue about censorship,” she said. “But you won’t find men’s genitalia in quality literature.”

    “At least not for children,” she added.

    Isn't that an exquisitely placed paragraph break? The reader has just enough time to reflect on the unqualified version of Nilsson's claim, and to call to mind a few of the many possible counterexamples (or else perhaps the word jozxyqk) before being given, in fairness to Nilsson, the rest of the quotation.
  2. I am, however, rather worried about where this sort of censorship will lead. What will become of the poor youngster who turns to the Oxford English Dictionary to look up the word snotgreen (a good elementary-school word if ever I saw one, though not yet picked up by Binney & Smith1)? The current entry (s.v. snot) says simply:
    1922 Snotgreen [see scrotum b].
    This is intended to direct the reader to this (s.v. scrotum):
    1922 Joyce Ulysses 7 Isn't the sea what Algy calls it: a grey sweet mother? The snotgreen sea. The scrotum-tightening sea. Epi oinopa ponton.
    Well, perhaps dictionaries may be forgiven by the censors for including such words. But will school libraries purge themselves of the four-volume Life and Works of Antonín Dvořák, simply because its author had the impropriety to be named Otakar Šourek?

1. That Crayola link is not a total non sequitur in a post on overzealous scholastic bowdlerizers, by the way. The history of colour names added and removed contains such gems as this:

Indian Red [was] renamed Chestnut in 1999 in response to educators who felt some children wrongly perceived the crayon color was intended to represent the skin color of Native Americans. The name originated from a reddish-brown pigment found near India commonly used in fine artist oil paint.

(Had it been up to me, I might have suggested India Red as a disambiguating alternative.)

 
 
 
(Deleted comment)
Henrytahnan on 26. Februar, 2007 00:18 (UTC)
It almost saddens me to read the word "jozxyqk" and think, "Oh, wait, I bet I know what that word is."

I have friends with masters degrees in children's literature. When next I see them, I do very much plan to ask if they know of quality children's literature that includes male genitalia.

(I wonder whether Ms. Nilsson beleives that you will find women's genitalia in quality literature for children.)
quantumkitty on 26. Februar, 2007 03:03 (UTC)
One thing that seems to have been missed: It's not men's private parts, it's dogs'.
Q. Pheevrq_pheevr on 26. Februar, 2007 03:51 (UTC)

That's a very good point. Especially since dogs are not generally held to human standards of privacy or propriety.

Curtana: Pulitzer for filthcurtana on 26. Februar, 2007 04:18 (UTC)
Just for starters, here's a list of other YA books that contain scrota (mostly of the animal variety). That's not even touching (ha ha) the rest of the male genitals.
Q. Pheevrq_pheevr on 26. Februar, 2007 05:11 (UTC)

That's quite an impressive list, though a rather dismal one. Nothing good, it seems, ever befalls fictitious scrota.

The last item, The Storm Testament, suggests another book that could have been on the list—Æsop's Fables, which is quoted as an early source of the peculiar legend of the self-castrating beaver:

The beaver, a four-footed animal that lives in pools, knows that he is hunted for his testicles, which are used to cure ailments. When pursued, the beaver runs for some distance, but when he sees he cannot escape, he will bite off his own testicles and throw them to the hunter, and thus escape death.

A later reference to this legend, in Edmund Gayton's Pleasant Notes on Don Quixot (1654), is the source of the OED's sole citation for the word unpollux:

The story of the Castor [= beaver] un-polluxing himselfe is very well applyed.

The OED conscientiously tells us exactly which sense of the prefix un- this word contains (un- 2, sense 6b), but sees no need for an explicit cross-reference to either the Dioscuri or the word bollocks.

Prof. Bleen6_bleen_7 on 26. Februar, 2007 06:09 (UTC)
As "the certain word" in this context refers to a dog's genitalia, the word jozxyqk primarily, if not exclusively, refers to cats'.

My wife and I, amateur Scrabble enthusiasts, have agreed that JOZXYQK is a legal word.
Q. Pheevrq_pheevr on 26. Februar, 2007 17:38 (UTC)

Has either of you yet had an opportunity to play the word?

(By the way, I must confess some doubts about its legitimacy. Feline orthography is, after all, entirely olfactive, and I would imagine that the transliteration of any Cat word into the Roman alphabet must be a non-trivial and possibly contentious exercise.)

Prof. Bleen6_bleen_7 on 4. Marts, 2007 04:41 (UTC)
Alas, no, but when one of us has a tray worth 40 points or more, we make it a point to say, "Got you now, buddy!" (We aren't very competitive.)

I agree; however, the Cat's ability to play Scrabble suggests that such a transliteration may exist. (Of course, it's more likely that he's having Lister on.) That brings up the interesting question of whether the olfactory Cat "written" language is alphabetic. In season 1 of Red Dwarf, Lister reads the Cat children's book by sniffing once per word, suggesting that the unit of Cat writing is lexical and not phonemic (though the passage is also consistent with a syllabic writing system; also, he sniffs three times for one particular word). Regardless, I would expect olfactory Scrabble to be prohibitively challenging, unless Cats (i.e., Felis sapiens) have short-term memories of much greater capacity than ours. Otherwise, near the end of the game all the contestants would constantly be sniffing the game board. That's the problem with a sensory medium that propagates by diffusion. (Personally, I don't buy a smell-based orthography. First, cats (i.e., Felis sylvestris catus) hunt much more by sight than by smell. Second, Cats would have acquired language through Red Dwarf's media collection, perhaps encouraged by a phenomenally bored Holly, and hence they'd have learned English and/or Esperanto long before they had time to develop their own language.)
Vizcacha: Cheesy grinchillyrodent on 26. Februar, 2007 13:50 (UTC)
... you won’t find men’s genitalia in quality literature.

I think she presumes too much about men's reading habits.
Q. Pheevrq_pheevr on 27. Februar, 2007 15:47 (UTC)

Me, I put my fingers in books often enough, and, being slightly nearsighted, occasionally my nose, and that's about it. But what about the presbyopic nudist? Or the blind bluesman whose guitar-playing fingers are covered in calluses and who therefore cons his Braille with more sensitive parts of his anatomy? Or, of course, the man who is a bibliophile in the carnal sense of the word?

鉄観音isolt on 27. Februar, 2007 03:49 (UTC)
That is indeed the most beautiful paragraph break ever. It almost brings me to tears.
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