Banning the “A” Word, “B” Word, “C” Word, “D” Word

“Knowledge is power.”- Francis Bacon

“A little learning is a dangerous thing.”- Alexander Pope

Every year in the USA, hundreds of books are reported as challenged or banned. The actual number is undoubtedly higher, as the American Library Association estimates only 20-25% of book challenges are reported. (2009)

The latest book censorship to make national news is NewSouth Books’ version of “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

NewSouth Books censors the “N” Word to “slave” and the “I” Word to “Native American.”

I believe censoring and banning books and words is morally wrong. It doesn’t matter what the book is. It doesn’t matter what the word is. The removal of a word from a published book without the author’s permission is a cousin of plagiarism. Banning a book from a library compromises the intellectual integrity of the library community.

Banning books is dangerous. Without many years of intensive education, most people are simply not smart enough to figure out how to live in harmony with others. This is where “freedom of speech” and “freedom of press” is helpful. People who are exposed to more ideas are more likely to figure out which ideas are good and which ideas are bad. This comparative reasoning is the basis of all informed decision-making.

Of course, not all books are appropriate for all people. For example, few would argue against segregating erotica away from the children’s reading room of a library. Segregation is not banning. Segregation will move a book to an age-appropriate area, while banning will remove a book from an entire community.

Behold the All-Powerful “N” Word

In modern western culture, no other word is more feared and worshipped than the “N” word. Since stripped of its trailing letters, it’s become even more looming and poisonous. Civilized people don’t say the “N” word, it’s just too raw and violent. And the more it’s worshipped and feared, the more powerful it becomes. The “N” word is even more powerful than the “G-d” word. Most people are allowed to say the “G-d” word, but relatively few are allowed the “N” word. The only people still saying the all-powerful “N” word in its entirety without repercussion are “B R” and “B C.” They are rewarded for spitting the “N” word to their “N”-immune minions, who devour it like a pack of profanity-starved sailors. But what about those of “M R”? Can you say the “N” word if you are 50% “B,” but not if you are 25% “B”? What if you are a “N-B” person raised in an otherwise “A-B” family? Is your family allowed to say the “N” word while you are not?

Let’s own ALL our words, and not let our words own us.

List of government-banned books.

For more information, visit the ALA.

Words and books can be controversial for any reason.

What is your opinion of censoring or banning words and books? Is it appropriate or necessary in specific instances?

Leave a comment


  1. Thanks, CM, for a thought-provoking post. I think you’re right that fear – and thus cowardice – is the major factor behind this change. Non-blacks are afraid of the word, parents are afraid of teaching their own kids the history behind it, schools are afraid of pissing off parents, etc.

    So people think it will be “easier” to just avoid the whole issue. Easier doesn’t mean better, or right.

    *If* this version were to be sold *only* to schools, and *if* is was labeled as abridged, and *if* it had a foreword explaining what they did and why and recommending that students read the full version in the future, and *if* it came with lesson plans about the history of the word/slavery/political correctness/book-banning/censorship/the reasons SC purposely used the word/etc., so that students would still understand the full context of the text and the issues surrounding it even if they didn’t read the actual original text…(that’s a lot of “if”s)…then maybe, MAYBE, I would be okay with this.

    And here’s why I say that: When parents read aloud to their kids, they often change words to match the maturity and comprehension of their kids. This isn’t done just for moral issues, but simply because a 2-year-old won’t understand all the vocabulary in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. However, parents that do that are likely to love the book themselves (explaining why they want to expose their kids to it even though it’s technically beyond them), and thus, they’ll be more likely to ensure their kids read it for themselves when they’re old enough. There’s nothing lost in the big picture and the kids eventually get the full story and context.

    Unfortunately, the publisher isn’t approaching this version with those types of goals in mind, so they’re not fulfilling all those “if”s. So what’s to stop kids from never realizing they hadn’t read the “real” thing? Or even worse? To never realize the social commentary SC was trying to make with his word choice, which would lose a huge part of the context of the story. *sigh*

    Sorry for going off on a rant, but the situation bugs me bad enough, and to see how it could be mitigated and somewhat “corrected”, and then it *not* be bugs me even more. Thanks again for the post. 🙂

    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment. 🙂

      I understand the apprehension some teachers and parents have about exposing children to vulgar words. I’ve never had to make the choice, but if a child in my care wanted to hear Huckleberry Finn read aloud, I would read it aloud without censoring it. Then I would explain how some of the words are vulgar, and why it’s usually inappropriate to use those words in casual conversation.

      I wish people would stop being so afraid of words and ideas. Yes, some words are very offensive to some people, and yes, some ideas are very dangerous. But we can’t lock these things away. We have to expose them, scrutinize them, and integrate them into our collective knowledge. Locking away vulgar words and dangerous ideas only makes them more alluring to children and the uninformed.

      I was ecstatic when I heard more homosexuals start to use the words “fag” and “queer” to self-identify. When derogatory words are embraced and used for positive self-identification, the MEANING OF THE WORDS CHANGES. I know “fag” and “queer” are still considered derogatory, but I’d say those words aren’t as poisonous as they used to be. That’s why I agree with and respect the fashion choice of Nas and Kelis (pictured). They are OWNING the word, and changing the meaning of the word. They are not letting the word own them. Now if only *everybody* could own the word- blacks, whites, mixed, others- the word would lose its hate. As long as a word is exclusively the property of a limited demographic, people outside that demographic will be able to use the word as a weapon.

      In the meantime, the word will continue to shock, shame, and offend.

  2. I was ok with banning the How-To book for pedophiles. Short of that, I’m seriously against it. I think rewriting Huck Finn is preposterous. The “n-word” didn’t have the same meaning back then. Hell, it didn’t have the same meaning when I was a kid. It was just a rude racial name like “cracker” or “honky.” I don’t hear anyone saying the “c-word” or see them taking Saltines off the shelves. And Indians? Seriously? Are we all just competing to see who has the biggest chip on their shoulder? When black people stop calling each other such vile names, I’ll take it seriously. The idea that black people own a word and control who is allow to say it is insane. Thank you for your thoughtful post and the opportunity for a brief rant. 🙂

    • You’re welcome! 🙂

      I agree, a pedophilia how-to book is inappropriate for everybody. Pedophiles don’t need a how-to book- they already know how to abuse and rape children. A pedo-how-to book is nothing more than propaganda for NAMBLA and the like, and pedo propaganda doesn’t belong in public libraries or bookstores.

  3. jesswords10

     /  January 8, 2011

    I had just read about Huckleberry Finn being banned the other day and I was shocked! I read that book in High School, and we watched a news story then about groups trying to ban the book for the language inside. I agree with you, it’s not only the author’s intellect and original words, but it’s a capture of history too. It sparked so many discussions in class about the N-word and we discussed ebonics in school. I am most saddened that the book has been banned, I agree, that at an age appropriate time, it is a great historical and literary piece.

    • Thanks for your comment. 🙂

      Absolutely. Once a novel is published, it should not be censored by others. Choose another book if you must, but don’t change an author’s words. Censoring Huckleberry Finn is censoring history.

  4. Thanks for this post. I indeed agree with what you are saying. I have been talking about this subject a lot lately with my father so may possibly this will get him to see my point of view. Fingers crossed!

  5. A round of applause!
    I do agree with you, and you said it really well!
    I’m all for not using certain words in certain contexts, but to change e.g. the N-word in Huckleberry Finn is, I think, counter-productive. – Wouldn’t it be better to allow discussion of why it is not okay to use today than to deny the existence? If I were to write a historical novel in a period when it was used, I would. It doesn’t mean that I would use it today. It doesn’t mean that I like it.
    And then there’s the whole discussion of revolutionising language. D.H. Lawrence wanted the F-word (and other four letter words) to be acceptable and used them in Lady Chatterley’s Lover, but people didn’t quite get the point back then.

    • Thank you! 🙂

      Certain demographics of people are not going to stop using the “N” Word, at least not anytime soon. It gets too much attention, and it’s too powerful. I believe when people stop fearing it, and instead embrace it, only then will it lose its terrible power.

  6. It’s reached a point where I don’t even know what some of the “X-word” are even referring to anymore when people say, “The ‘A-word,’ the ‘B-word,'” and others.

    Like you, I’m not afraid of words. Words can have power; they can make us cringe. I’ve gone off on people I’ve worked with who ranted about “street niggers” and other piles of ignorance. I find the context many use when wielding certain words very offensive. But…especially among adults…just use the word!

    If I were writing a story that dealt with racism, I’d hope any use of “nigger” would be offensive…because people who use it to brand an entire group of people are offensive. My father used the word, and I called him on that shit.

    In the case of Huckleberry Finn, Twain shows us where he stands in the introduction to the book. He talks about how he worked very hard to recreate the kind of dialogue he heard in the area where the book is set. People said nigger, but come on — the book is about a white kid helping a runaway slave. Hardly a racist sentiment, especially considering the time!

    I agree with you: use of these words should lead to discussion about why they offend us…why they SHOULD offend us in many cases, depending on the context. But in the cases of somebody like any of the men on my father’s side of the family, it’s not the word that’s the real issue: it’s the ignorance of the person using the word.

    We know Twain, in early letters, said nigger in a not-so-nice manner. But we also know that he saw the injustice in slavery and spent time among relatives who owned slaves and was bothered by it…so much so, that he had the courage to write some of the books that shed light on the injustices at the time.

    It’s a shame that a word can overshadow a conversation about the people who — back then — stuck their necks out to say, “Hey, this isn’t cool! People are people, and what we need to be concerned about is ignorance and hatred — not the color of one’s skin.”

    That Twain uses younger characters in Huckleberry Finn always said a lot to me; it always seemed on some level to say that the ignorance and industry behind slavery was a construct of controlling adults who somewhere along the way lost their compassion.

    I know there are some who would say changing “nigger” to “slave” and “Injun” to “Indian” doesn’t affect the story — that it’s meaning is still left intact. And on some level, I can even see the point.

    But I’m not a fan of changing an author’s words — especially when the words are something that can lead to forcing discussions about how far we’ve come, but how far we still have to go when it comes to respecting others…

    • And the “other piles of ignorance,” line above refers to the people I’ve worked with who’ve said other ignorant things — not to the people they were stereotyping, which was always kind of funny in a sad way since they were often just as bad or worse on a level of stereotype than the people they spent their days fuming about…

      • Great points. 🙂

        In my apartment community, I’d say there’s a mix of 40-60% blacks and 40-60% whites. On more than several occasions, I’ve overheard groups of black kids use “nigger” and several more otherwise disparaging slang words and profanities in friendly conversation. These words are often shouted and used to ridiculous excess. I don’t hear the white kids use these words. I’ve concluded that in this particular community, the black kids live in a language-permissive culture while OBSERVING the language-restricted culture of the white kids. It’s like gathering a group of children, and telling the lefties they can eat all the candy they want while telling the righties candy is bad and they can’t eat any. No wonder the lefties become gluttons.

  7. It’s all about power. Nigger was not a powerful word when this book was written. It was a term that was accepted in the everyday vernacular of its time. If we are going to start correcting the modern day inappropriateness of certain words – now that their meanings and usage have changed – we may want to start with the bible. Anyone care to edit that????

    Great post, CMStewart!

    Murphy – just saying.

    • Thank you! 🙂 Excellent point about how word meanings shift over time. You’d think more people at NewSouth Books would understand the context and sacredness of Huckleberry Finn. I mean, they ARE book publishers, for crying out loud.

  1. For Huckleberry « The Happiness Project
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