04 July 2008

Miracles Wanted

I mentioned that the timely completion of Proper Words in Proper Places is contingent on a series of miracles happening between now and late October. I'll be glad for one of them now.

As a gimmick, I've decided the subtitle of each chapter will be a short declarative sentence starting with a proper name:

  • The Age in Which I Live: Dryden Revises His Works
  • Fixing the Language: Swift Demands an Academy
  • Enchaining Syllables, Lashing the Wind: Johnson Writes a Dictionary
  • The Art of Using Words Properly: Bishop Lowth Lays Down the Law
  • The People in These States: Webster Americanizes the Language
  • Words, Words, Words: Murray Surveys Anglicity
  • The Taste and Fancy of the Speller: Shaw Rewrites the ABCs
  • Tools of the Trade: Strunk & White Show the Way
  • Sacking the Citadel: Philip Gove Stokes the Flames
  • Grammar, and Nonsense, and Learning: We Look to the Future
(All are provisional, but you get the idea.)

Here's the trick: I'm planning a chapter on "bad language" — that is, naughty words — and want a good name for the subtitle. The chapter will focus on attempts to restrict offensive language, looking back to early laws on blasphemy and such, but dwelling mostly on C19 and C20 British and American concerns with obscenity on the one hand, and "political correctness" on the other. I'm dealing almost exclusively with verbal censorship, so visual stuff doesn't count.

The proposal for the book had "Expletive Deleted: Moralists Police the Borders," but since then I've decided to use personal names in every chapter. All the others have more or less fallen into place, but I'm stumped on this one.

Best one so far: "Expletive Deleted: Justice Stewart Knows It When He Sees It," alluding to Jacobellis v. Ohio, in which U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart took up the definition of "hard-core pornography":

I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it.

Not bad, but I hope to do better — not least because Stewart was discussing a film, not literature, and because he argued that the film in question was not obscene. I'd rather have someone who's concerned with words. Ideally it'd be a name recognized throughout the Anglophone world but, if it's not universally known, it should at least be familiar in the US.

Another possibility, brought to mind by a much-lamented premature loss, is "George Carlin Can't Say Them on Television" or some such.

But I'll be glad for suggestions, and will count them toward my expected quota of miracles. So, smart and creative people: make with the suggestions already.

5 comments:

Nathan P said...

"Better left unsaid: Laurence Sterne leaves it to the imagination."

WZZRD1 said...

Andrew Dice Clay ___________ (ellucidates?) ________________ (America? mankind? us?) with his _________________ (elloquence?).

ADC was a comedian notorious for his use of offensive language. Unlike, Carlin, that was pretty much his act -- he was the proverbial one-trick pony. Blanks above to be filled with the most apt word. :)

Anonymous said...

Do not give up this idea, now that you have come so far with it! I will line up to buy the book!

Jack Lynch said...

Thanks for the advice so far. Not to worry; I'm not going to abandon the book. I'd better not -- the publisher would make me return the advance I've received to date, which would put me in the poorhouse. I owe my soul to the company store.

HenryW said...

How about Bowdler cuts it out?

Or if you want something that is more American than British, then how about Comstock cuts it off. You can even use that old Robert Minor cartoon from The Masses.