By Frank Moher
You will have heard that an American publishing house has plans for an edition of Huckleberry Fiinn in which the character “N***** Jim” is to be renamed “Slave Jim.” Now comes word that the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has ruled that the song “Money for Nothing” by Dire Straits is unfit for Canadian ears because it contains the word . . . well, I won’t write it, but it starts with “F” and rhymes with “shag it.”
Quite right. I, too, find these words to be unhearable and unreadable. In fact, they offend me so much — not on my own behalf, mind you, but on behalf of others — that I will not even refer to them as “The N Word” and “The F Word.” I prefer “The Letter After ‘M’ Word” and “The Letter With Which ‘Fish’ Starts Word” — just to further avoid offence, you understand.
But let us not stop now. So much of our cultural heritage needs to be edited. Let’s get at it.
For example, I am particularly interested in drama — or, as I like to refer to it, The Drama. But what a cesspool of offensiveness it is. Take David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross — a potpourri of profanity and racial epithets. But not irredeemable. Below I have indicated how it might be cleaned up for civilized consumption:
MOSS: You missed an intercoursing big sale. Big deal. A dead-beat Person of Polish Persuasion. Big deal. And I’ll tell you, I’ll tell you what else. Don’t ever try to sell a South Asian Individual. They like to feel superior (except of course they don’t, I am merely saying that for reasons of bigotry), I don’t know. Never bought an intercoursing thing.”
Much better. And I bet you can’t even tell where I made changes.
Similarly, Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, and its insensitive use of “The Letter That Comes Before ‘X’ Word That Rhymes With ‘Rich’ But Is Spelled More Like ‘Ditch.'” Surely it is time we replaced this hateful slur with the more contemporaneously acceptable “Solstice Sprite.”
PUTNAM: Don’t you understand it, sir? There is a murdering (but not really) Solstice Sprite among us, bound to keep herself in the dark (or so I believe in my unenlighted 17th-century view, for which I am deeply sorry.) Wait for no one to charge you — declare it yourself. You have discovered Solstice Spirittwittery!”
You’re welcome, Mr. Miller.
In fiction, Catcher in the Rye has, of course, been asking for it for years. Time to change it up:
“Anyway, it was December and all, and it was cold as a Solstice Sprite’s Baby-Feeding Mechanism. The week before somebody had stolen my camel’s-hair coat (which I deeply regret wearing, now that I better understand the suffering of cold camels). Pencey was full of People of a Thief-Like Persuasion (though in saying that we must take into account the possibility of childhood trauma which may have led to their anti-social behaviour).
And now our own Canadian watchdogs have recognized the need to move on to music. I suggest, once we have combed the entire Dire Straits/Mark Knopfler canon, we launder the discography of that incorrigible sexist, Elvis Presley. As a start:
Well long tall Sally, she’s built for speed
But Uncle John also respects her keen insights into the work of Schopenhauer
By the way, while the publishers of the new Huckleberry Finn have done fine work there, they also propose bringing out a new edition of Tom Sawyer in which “Injun Jim” becomes “Indian Jim.” But I am from B.C., where the latter has been further replaced with “First Nations.”
Hence I will have to wait for the expurgated version of the expurgated version. It’s not easy being enlightened.