Fri, May 30, 2003 - Page 7 News List

To heck with hell, US textbooks now say

LANGUAGE POLICE The restraints on what people may or may not say borders on the trivial and reminds of the language manipulation in George Orwell's 1984


Oh heck: Hell hath no place in American primary and high school textbooks.

But then again you can't find anyone sailing a yacht or playing polo in the pages of an American textbook either. The texts also can't say someone has a boyish figure, or is a busboy, or is blind, or suffers a birth defect, or is a biddy, or the best man for the job, a babe, a bookworm, or even a barbarian.

All these words are banned from US textbooks on the grounds that they are either elitist (polo, yacht) sexist (babe, boyish figure), offensive (blind, bookworm) ageist (biddy) or just too strong (hell, which is replaced with darn or heck). God is also a banned word because he or she is too religious.

To get the full 500-word list of what is banned and why, consult The Language Police, a new book by New York University professor of education Dianne Ravitch, a former education official in President George Bush's administration and a consultant to the Clinton administration.

Ravitch says a lot of people are having fun finding new titles for Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea which presents problems with every word except "and" and "the." Ravitch said old is ageist, man is sexist and sea can't be used in case a student lives inland and doesn't grasp the concept of a large body of water.

But some people say the phenomenon of sanitising words and thought is not isolated to textbook publishers seeking not to offend anyone so that sales can be as wide as possible. It happens among academics, too.

The New York Times recently reported that National Institute of Health researchers on AIDS are not only avoiding using words like gay and homosexuals in e-mails so as not to offend conservatives in the Bush administration, they are also inventing code words.

Times journalist Erica Goode reported that one researcher was told to "cleanse" the abstract of his grant proposal of words like gay, homosexual and transgender even though his research was on HIV in gay men.

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