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March 03, 1984 - Image 4

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The Michigan Daily, 1984-03-03

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4

OPINION

.

Page 4

Saturday, March 3, 1984

The Michigan Daily

In defense of

American Heritage

By Scott Winkelman
A partial list of American pastimes
would probably read as follows:
baseball, dinner at McDonald's, soap
operas, and berating foreign countries
for their censorship activities. Whether
in congressional hearings, athletic club
locker rooms, or dorm cafeterias, one
can most always partake in a juicy
discussion of Soviet and Third World ef-
forts to suppress certain works. One of
many reasons for reading and enjoying
many Russian novels is the knowledge
that these items could not be published
or distributed on their native soil. (All
good Americans assume that a sup-
pressed book must be worth reading, as
it. necessarily contains offensive
language, sexually suggestive
situations, or anti-government tirades.)
This author wishes to destroy an
American tradition, or, more precisely,
to alter the focus of one of our favorite
diversions. This is not to deny or deem-
phasize the severe abuses of foreign
governments. I suggest, rather, that
while searching for abusive censorship
activities we would do well to examine
our own backyard.
BOOK CENSORSHIP in American
public schools has reached epidemic
proportions. A national survey conduc-
ted by a teachers organization revealed
that in 1981, 34 percent of the schools
responding experienced censorship
challenges to works in their libraries.
By 1982, the figure had risen to 56 per-
cent. Nearly half of these challenges
met with success, as restrictions were
placed on the challenged materials.
One might automatically assume that
right-wing organizations are primarily
responsible for censorship activities. In
fact, book banning is not a partisan
issue, as liberals and conservatives are
equally vehement in their attempts to
suppress certain works. Censorship is
similarly not a regional or rural
phenomenon: in 1984, at least 48 states
experienced efforts to somehow
restrict access to certain textbooks,
course materials, and library books.
Frequently these attempts occurred
in urban school systems. Many of us are

familiar with the works most com-
monly subject to censorship. J. D.
Salinger's Catcher in the Rye and the
anonymously written Go Ask Alice are
most frequently attacked, and
blacklists often include John Stein-
beck's Of Mice and Men, Richard
Wright's Black Boy, and Nathaniel
Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter.
PERHAPS MOST shocking are the recent
attempts to outlaw the American Her-
itage Dictionary. One group of self-
proclaimed censorsdiscoveredd13
"inappropriate" words in this dic-
tionary; another committee found 36
obscenities. Attempts to ban the dic-
tionary from classrooms have suc-
ceededC intowns in Ohio, Texas, In-
diana, California, and elsewhere.
I had not used the American Heritage
Dictionary previous to learning of these
actions (I confess to owning a portable
Oxford American variety and a mon-
strous Webster's New Collegiate
edition). Through a cursory
examination of a roommate's
American Heritage edition, however, I
managed to locate at least two four-
letter no-nos. Sure enough, on page 531 I
found the first naughty word, the
definition of which I paraphrase:
f--- (f---) v. 1. Vulgar. To have
sexual intercourse with. 2.
Vulgar Slang. Toudeal with in an
aggressive, .unjust, or spiteful
manner. 3. Vulgar Slang. To
mishandle; bungle.Usually used
with up...
An equally infamous profanity ap-
pears on page 1196 with the following
explanation:
s--- (s---) v. Vulgar. To
defecate.-tr. Vulgar slang. To
deceive or mislead.-n. 1.
Vulgar. An act of defecating. 3.
Vulgar Slang. Worthless matter;
junk. . . 6. Vulgar Slang. A nar-
cotic drug; especially heroin...
So, here we have them, f--- and s---,
the words which knocked American
Heritage out of the public schools. Hap-
pening upon these inclusions would
cause some users to question the
editor's credentials. Upon examination,
however, the dictionary's qualifications

are impeccable. The American
Heritage Company hired renowned
linguists from Harvard, Brown, and
Wesleyan universities, among others,
for assistance in their particular fields.
The dictionary's usage panel is
similarly diverse and all-
encompassing. Conservatives who
assume that the work represents Com-

T
s-igV°
t.,
%IfSI/s

American special interests, doing
justice to scientists (Isaac Asimov),
feminists (Gloria Steinem), humorists
(Russell Baker), critics (Walter Kerr
and Pauline Kael), poets (Allen Tate),
anthropologists (Margaret Mead),
Idaho natives (Charles B. Boren), and
people with silly nicknames (Walter
"Red" Smith).
4'
,.
/ --
f4'' O ..
v
*-A
. 'l 0
/7
PERISCOPE
Graphic by Craig Winkelman
MOST WOULD agree, then, that the
American Heritage Dictionary does not
emanate from a particular partisan
bias. Many of us may despise the con-
tent of William F. Buckley's commen-,
ts; few would dare condemn the
linguistic authority with which he
speaks. Yet a combination of these
distinguished individuals somehow
allowed f--- and s-- to slip into a dic-
tionary. Were they simple toa busy to
notice their mistakes? Or could they
possible have intentionally reserved f---

and s--- places alongside such favorite
terms as "surreptitious" and "far-
thingale"?
Although I would not purport [pur-
port (pur'port') 1. To contain the claim
or profession.. . To imply... , pg.
1062)] to speak for the editors, I believe
the answers to these questions reside in
the intended purpose of the work, or
more precisely, in the difference bet-
ween "prescriptive" and "descriptive''
works. All dictionaries certainly have
prescriptive intentions. Most of them
claim to prescribe the use of "good"
English as opposed to "bad" English.
They also define their areas of proper
use. A rhyming dictionary, for instan-
ce, is intended for poets and song
writers, while a general dictionary may
be edited "for use in school or college,
in the office," etc.
More important, however, is the
descriptive role played by dictionaries.
Incuded in most all dictionaries, even
those which exclude f--- and s---, is a
definition of the word "dictionary". The
Oxford American edition, for instance,
suggests that a dictionary "lists and
explains the words of a language or the
words and topics of a particular sub-
ject . . ." This definition says nothing of,
a prescriptive purpose, but rather
demands that a dictionary include and
describe words of a language. The Ox-
ford compilera even brag that their
work includes "a number of slang, in-
formal, and technical words and
phrases;" they obviously decided,
however, that f--- and s--- do not even
qualify under these category headings.
A DICTIONARY, in the most
general sense, describes and
explains words. F--- and s--- are
included in the American Heritage ver-
sion not because they are provocative
and controversal, but because they are
words. If the former -was the true in-
tent, or if the editors truly wished for
the work to be prescriptive, they may
have entitled it, The American Heriage
Dictionary: Including Dirty Words
Which Should Not be Considered Dirty
Any Longer And Should Instead Be
Used Frequently.
But the American Heritage editors

are not "pushing" these words on in-
nocent children; they are simply
acknowledging that these words exist.
F--- and s--- are even preceded with
labels like "Vulgar" and "Slang" to
suggest their limited applicability,or as
the preface explains, to "restrict a
definition to some level or style or
usage." American Heritage does not
suggest then, that teenagers use these
words during job interviews, marriage
vows, or first dinners with their future
mothers-in-law.
Furthermore, I am hard pressed to
determine how a dictionary containing
the words f--- and s--- could be put to ill
use. I simply cannot imagine young
Johnny sitting alone in the school
library one day, bored and restless, and
taking advantage of the librarian's ab-
sence by poring through the American
Heritage Dictionary from A to Z! (The'
pictures inside may be good, but.
they're not that good!) Perhaps the
scenario is altered slightly if Johnny
leaps through the pages intending to
research "dirty" words told to him by
the guys at school. But if this is the
case, then the youngster is already
familiar with f--- and s--- and, therefore,
the dictionary is not the guilty party.
If we truly worry about the effect of
dictionaries on naive, innocent Johnny,
then why don't we omit all words with
unpleasant connotations, such as
'communist," "spinach," and
"designer jeans?"
Our nation's children stand to lose the
most at the hands of rhisguided censors.
It is they who will suffer from the
restrictions placed upon academic
freedom and development of
imagination. It is bad enough that
schoolboards suppress works like The
Diary of Anne Frank (too depressing),
Huckleberry Finn (too racist), Robin
Hood (too revolutionary), and Mary
Poppins (too something-I haven't yet
figured this one out). But please: leav*
the dictionaries alone.
Winkelman is editor-in-chief of,
Consider and associate editor of the
Michigan Journal of Political Scien-
ce.

munist Party dogma should take heart
in the inclusion of William F. Buckley
Jr. on the panel. Liberals should be
equally satisfied with Arthur
Schlesinger Jr.'s contribution.
Democrats will instantly notice Senator
Daniel Patrick Moynihan's par-
ticipation, while Senators Hatfield and
Hayakawa proudly represent the
Grand Old Party of Lincoln and
Reagan.
In fact, the editors make room on the
panel for representation of virtually all

Edited and managed by students at The University of Michigan

Sinclair
WE FEEL T
E TSAE

Vol. XCIV-No. 120

420 Maynard St.
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

I

Editorials represent a majority opinion of the Daily's Editorial Board
Steps toward solving
the deficit dilemma

,.T
f i t)

'HEIE SAOULJ.V
RR IN 7HE
SCHOOL. S

... FOR THOSE CHILPDREN~
wNO PoQOT or P ROPER
ckti~m AN INS-TRUCTION
_ IN THE RO'ME.
-,
kin- U AlIr- ___

4

4

R ESPONDING to fears of rising interest
rates and a souring recovery,
Congress and the National Governors
Association are calling for necessary
and brave steps toward reducing the
immense federal deficit. The gover-
nor's recommendations of tax in-
creases and cuts in spending and the
bipartisan efforts in Congress to
propose strong budget measures are
coming as a result of the Reagan ad-
ministration's failure to constructively
address the deficit problem.
Ronald Reagan doesn't want to
believe that the budget imbalance
represents a threat to the economy. He
has ignored the warnings of his -Chief
Economic Adviser Martin Feldstein
and the Chairman of the Federal
Reserve Board, Paul Volcker, who
predict harsh consequences for the
economy should the deficit remain at
its present level. The administration's
meager answer to these fears has
come through the budget cutting
recommendations of the Grace com-
mission. The commission s' con-
clusions, however, are largely
meaningless because of extensive
revisions in the law that would be
necessary to implement the proposals
and because the "planning" estimates
were rnssly nverstater Con-

balance, and it can only come in the
form of tax increases and reductions in
spending.
The bipartisan effort in Congress to
achieve a $100 billion "down payment"
on the deficit is.a brave effort to take
steps that Reagan has been afraid to
take. Raising taxes is not popular, but
it is necessary. On Thursday, the
House Ways and Means Committee
approved $50 billion worth of tax
changes and tax increases on liquor
and cigarettes that came on the heels
of an agressive statement from the
National Governors Association
calling for $150 billion in increased
taxes and spending cuts.
Most encouraging is the movement
toward a bipartisan limitation on
Reagan's military spending authority.
This movement was indicatedby
Republican Chairman of the Senate
Budget Committee Pete Domenici' s
proposal that Reagan's desired 13 per-
cent military increase be limited to
five percent. Not surprisingly,
Domenici's action elicited sharp
disapproval from the White House'
which considers the military budget
sacred.
But even though the five percent
, ._ .." . . . ",.- . - .. .

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I

LETTERS TO THE DAILY:
Booing mob should act its age

'g

To the Daily:
Today, Dan Pelekoudas will
appear in his last basketball
game at the University. I will be
there, along with several
thousand blubbering, sour-
faced fools, and I will have to sit
and watch poor Pelekoudas stand
at center court and pretend like
he can't hear the boos. The
thnmoht of this nIn enrage-, m

good player or not; whether he
should be playing or not; these
arguments become irrelevant
when the sadness of the situation
is realized. He plays hard and
clean and tries to win. He prac-
tices hard all week. By all ac-
counts he is a good student and a
nice guy. More importantly, he is
BLOOM COUNTY

a human being with family and
friends and feelings.
I am no great defender of
justice, nor do I have any concern
for the image and quality of the
people involved with this school. I
am not a horn blower. My point
here is that this booing business
is a disgusting injustice brought

on by weak, sneaky people hiding,
within the safety of a mob. It is
rude, discourteous, and ob-
noxious behavior. My mother
cured me of such action when I
was six years old by washing my
mouth out with soap.
-David Collins
March 2
by Berke Breathed:

1

I I

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