A little more creeping censorship: the T word

by Diane Duane

Here, try this on for size.

Random House Children’s Books has agreed to remove a four-letter swearword from a popular book by Dame Jacqueline Wilson after complaints from Anne Dixon, who insists she is standing up for values of common decency.

The 55-year-old said she was horrified when she came across the expletive in the best-selling book My Sister Jodie – a gift for her nine-year-old great-niece, Eve Coulson.

“I got to the page where reference was made to a ‘toffee-nosed twit’,” she said.

“On the next page the word changed….”

To another word different by a single vowel: a word normally used for a part of the female anatomy. (No indication is given in the article about how the context might have changed.) The lady, outraged, emailed the author for an explanation of “how to explain this” to her great-niece, and having heard nothing back, complained to Asda (where she’d bought the book).

Apparently this got back to Random House, provoking this response:

A spokesman for Random House Children’s Books said: “In the context of the character, we felt it was used in a way that accurately portrayed how children like Jodie would speak to each other.

“The book is aimed at children aged ten and over, and we felt it was acceptable for that age range.

“However, in light of this response we have decided to amend the word when we reprint the book.”

What particularly interests me here is the language. Just who exactly is “we”? Was the author included in this decision? (She’d better have been. And if she was, and has decided to keep mum about it, that’s her business.)

…Let me be clear about this. I’m not wild about the use of intimate-body-part-based slang in general, because it’s so often used pejoratively, in a my-gender-or-orientation-is-better-than-yours way. I don’t use it in my own work except when writing for adults, and then judiciously. But that’s my personal preference. What Dame Jacqueline feels is apropos for a given age is up to her. (And as a side issue, my guess is that most nine-year-olds in the UK know the word in question perfectly well, having heard it on the playground — and words a whole lot rougher — since they were in first form.) But when a single complaint from a member of the public can cause editorial changes like this… then somewhere, something is broken.

…Just a pre-caffeine thought.

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