The words "controversy" and "Prairie Home Companion" go together like sleeping dogs and firecrackers, but a small brouhaha erupted earlier this week when PHC aired a song with the words "g** damn" in it. MPR apologized for the airing (though it's not illegal) and the local media reported on it, referring to the gaffe as "blasphemy."
Really? Blasphemy? Is this something we are still charging people with in 2015? For saying "g** damn"?
A few years ago, National Public Radio got itself into a bit of hot water over the "g** damn" controversy. But it never apologized for "blasphemy." Instead, it dissected the use of the phrase across media and examined when and why the words together are offensive, an airing a little less loaded than calls of "blasphemy." What it came down to, the obudsman noted, was simply respecting listeners. From NPR's ombudsman in 2009:
Using "god damn it," for example, is not "legally profane" according to the FCC.
But taking the Lord's name in vain — although not all see it that way — is more problematic for all mainstream media.
"God Damn is more complicated, especially because of the juxtaposition here to the other bleeped words," said Chris Turpin, ATC's executive producer. "Usually we don't bleep God Damn —there is no legal reason to do so — although we realize there are some in the audience who find this exceedingly offensive."
To be sure, the media isn't immune to using antiquated, outdated words such as "blasphemy," whose original meanings are deeply rooted in fear, oppression, and sexism. The words "out of wedlock" and "illegitimate child" are often used by mainstream media, most frequently as an easy (and lazy) way to call into question someone's reputation. Is it really important to the story that it be known that the child was born "out of matrimony"? And if so, why?
While we're at it, here a few more outdated words that should be reconsidered:
Emasculated: Is there a female equivalent for this word? No. Because this word is a 17th century word rooted in the idea that someone (often a woman) does something to take away a man's "manliness," his power. (The New York Times used it quite a bit this month.) It assumes there's something positive about "male power" and masculinity to begin with. For women's and men's sake, let's stop using it.
Divorcée: Divorce isn't something you are; it's something you do. By choice. While divorcee is a word used to describe men and women, it's used mostly to describe women in stories that make "Three's Company" look progressive.
Ladylike: This is just a bad description, New York Times. Does it mean anything anymore? Other than a word used to smear women who don't act as they are "supposed to" according to male standards? Goodbye, ladylike.
Selfie stick: Because it's just a terrible thing and a terrible word.
What words would you add to the list? Add them to the comments and I will publish some of the best in a later post.
(Note: I "bleeped" out my own usage because it seems gratuitous here, a word I really like.)