I confess I was once part of the speech police. That’s right; I had a list of banned words I imposed on others. Of course, the others I imposed my list on were our own children, all of whom were in training to become civilized human beings.
Check and done.
How fascinating that the speech police have found such a warm welcome on the University of Michigan campus with their $16,000 Inclusive Language Campaign. Bright pink posters proclaim “Your Words Matter.” One wonders if budget cuts prevented happy face posters screaming “You’re Special!”
A university campus is not populated by small children but by high school graduates and beyond, most of whom wish to be regarded as adults. Their days of being scolded for potty mouth are in the past. Or maybe not. Maybe the speech police receive a warm welcome because it’s like having your mom go to college with you. BFF, and all that, right?
What is beyond comprehension is that college students are willingly signing pledges not to speak certain words. I don’t disagree that the words are crass. What I disagree with is kowtowing to another human being dictating what you can and can’t say.
Have these students never heard a single World War II veteran say, “I may disagree with what you say, but I’ll fight to the death for your right to say it”? Freedom of speech is one of the four rights guaranteed by the First Amendment, something those pesky Founding Fathers thought would be a good idea. And now the University of Michigan is asking students to blow their noses on the First Amendment.
Equally interesting are the words that aren’t on the banned word list. The F-word (now adaptable to all eight parts of speech), the word for a female dog (dogs have feelings, too) and either part of Ho Hos, a snack cake by Hostess. Those words are hurtful, crude and everywhere on a college campus, but they’re acceptable because they’re standard fare in the entertainment culture. Hands off the money train.
The first bad-word dictionary was issued by my alma mater, the University of Missouri, in 1990. Mike Royko, legendary Chicago columnist, penned a defiant column directed at the speech police. Using as many words as he could from the list of banned words, he made it clear that he would not go quietly into the dark night.
Few have that courage today. We go along to get along. We succumb to fear and the pressure of groupthink. We surrender basic rights and freedoms and are proud of it. We worry about threats to our freedom from beyond while threats to freedom on our own soil slowly wrap their long fingers around our necks.
There’s a word for any campaign that asks you to yield freedom. It’s a word that starts with a “b” and has an “sh” in it.
Is that word allowed? Too bad. I just used it.
Lori Borgman is a columnist, author and speaker. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.