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The S-Word? The B-Word?

Via Plastic, a story in the Guardian on the de-vulgarization of the f-word. In the story, the BBC's chief advisory on editorial policy mentions that over 50 percent of people surveyed believe that words that should never be broadcast include (among others) the c-word, the n-word, and the mf-word -- but the f-word apparently isn't bad enough to make the list. Interestingly to this American, one of the words on the "never broadcast" list is "spastic." How did that get there?

Of course, they missed the very worst word of all:

In today's modern galaxy there is of course very little still held to be unspeakable. Many words and expressions which only a matter of decades ago were considered so distastefully explicit that were they to be merely breathed in public, the perpetrator would be shunned, barred from polite society, and in extreme case shot through the lungs, are now thought to be very healthy and proper, and their use in everyday speech is seen as evidence of a well-adjusted, relaxed, and totally un(bleep)ed up personality.

So for instance, when in a recent national speech the Financial Minister of the Royal World Estate of Quarlvista actually dared to say that due to one thing and another and the fact that no one had made any food for a while and the King seemed to have died and that most of the population had been on holiday now for over three years, the economy was now in what he called "one whole joojooflop situation," everyone was so pleased he felt able to come out and say it they quite failed to notice that their five thousand year-old civilization had just collapsed overnight.

But though even words like joojooflop, swut, and turlingdrome are now perfectly acceptable in common usage there is one word that is still beyond the pale. The concept it embodies is so revolting that the publication or broadcast of the word is utterly forbidden in all parts of the galaxy except one where they don't know what it means. That word is 'belgium' and it is only ever used by loose-tongued people like Zaphod Beeblebrox in situations of dire provocation.

My guess is that the word in question was so offensive that the people surveyed by the BBC couldn't even bring themselves to utter it.

(Thanks to the late, great, and much-missed Douglas Adams.)

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