Those of us who believed the old rhyme "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me" have to think again. The power of words is on display all around us. As a copy editor, I know that in the news business it's very dangerous to use the n-word, even in quotes. It has the ability to insult and enrage.
But there are other insults and words that many consider out of line. Virginians certainly know about the word macaca. Talk about power!
Peter Applebone, writing in The New York Times March 11, reported that at a New York high school three students, without permission, read a short portion of "The Vagina Monologues" in an "open microphone" session. The school suspended them for several days.
And libraries around the country are removing the 2007 Newbery Medal children's book, "The Higher Power of Lucky," which uses the word scrotum on the first page.
Just in case we should despair and be afraid to use any words for fear of offending, it's cheering to read about the National Vocabulary Championship. The March 5 New York Times reported that Robert Marsland, 18, of Madison, Wis., was the winner of a $40,000 scholarship, beating out 50 finalists who knew the meaning of such words as poecilonym (synonym) and trebuchet (catapult).
The contest was run by the GSN: The Network for Games and was created by The Princeton Review. According to the contest's press person, Marsland won when he gave the correct answer to the meaning of "The hirsute professor maintains that his solipsism stems from a bona fide philosophical conviction rather than excessive narcissism."
Some other words used in the contest were ersatz (the antonym for legitimate); peccadillo (comes from Latin for sin); anodyne (can mean relaxing); amorphous (synonym for inchoate).
An hour special on the first-ever vocabulary competition will air on GSN April 15 at 8 p.m.
Careful! It's the Law
The legislature in Arkansas has passed a resolution that makes Arkansas's the correct form of the possessive of the state. Fortunately, there is no penalty if you slip and write Arkansas' which is AP style.
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