THE BLOG
08/07/2007 02:33 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

What's Missing Here? How About "Free Speech"?

The New York City Council may be on href="http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/07/nyregion/07bword.html?ei=5090&en=8bb9b60b7da0d2ed&ex=1344139200&adxnnl=1&partner=rssuserland&emc=rss&pagewanted=print&adxnnlx=1186498924-CEkugEIAifs62qw0hdgZ8Q"
target="_blank">the verge of banning the slur "bitch."
Councilwoman Darlene Mealy of Brooklyn, who introduced the measure,
claims the word creates "a paradigm of shame and indignity" for all
women. The word is certainly offensive. The movement to restrict
speech, far more offensive.

The measure, which 19 of the 51 council members have signed onto,
was prompted in part by the frequent use of the word in hip-hop music.
Ten rappers were cited in the legislation, along with an excerpt from
an 1811 dictionary that defined the word as "A she dog, or doggess;
the most offensive appellation that can be given to an English
woman."

While the bill also bans the slang word "ho," the b-word appears to
have acquired more shades of meaning among various groups, ranging
from a term of camaraderie to, in a gerund form, an expression of
emphatic approval. Ms. Mealy acknowledged that the measure was
unenforceable, but she argued that it would carry symbolic power
against the pejorative uses of the word. Even so, a number of New
Yorkers said they were taken aback by the idea of prohibiting a term
that they not only use, but do so with relish and affection.

There's plenty of discussion about whether such a ban would work
(of course not), but there is virtually no conversation on whether
such a ban is a restriction of free speech (yes) -- or does that
matter not deserve any attention? What possible justification could a
city council have to ban a word, even symbolically? Surely someone
would challenge such a law target="_blank">even in the Nanny State. The ACLU? Right?
Right?

The Times reporter seems surprised that "bitch" has so many
defenders in NYC. My favorite justification was forwarded by Darris
James, an architect from Brooklyn, who claimed, "Hell, if I can't say
bitch, I wouldn't be able to call half my friends." Hell, you may not
be able to say "hell" soon either.

(On a personal note, I don't like the idea of being hampered by
laws at home. As someone who has called his wife the B-Word, I would
only support such a ban if her usage of, say the word "prick," a
paradigm of shame and indignity for all men, were also banned to
balance the "discussion.")

You would expect, perhaps, that those who use "bitch" properly
would be the word's staunchest defenders. Not so. As far as shedogs
are concerned, the host the Westminster Kennel Club dog show in New
York believes that the show would be "grandfathered in" though, the
"reality is it's in the realm of responsible conduct to not use that
word anymore."

Actually, the responsible conduct would be to use "bitch" in tha
context. It's the correct word.