February 11, 2005

Slander in Seattle

Washington state is in the news over an effort by Democrats (who probably have the votes to do it) to repeal a special law with purely linguistic focus: it specifically forbids slander against women. That's right: call a woman a slut in Seattle and you're breaking the law, buddy.

Unless, oddly, she's a prostitute. Now, a rational person might have thought that was exactly the kind of woman that would most need the protection of such a law, because people can slander the virtue of a working girl and really mean it. I think these profession-targeted insults are pernicious. The last thing you want when you're finally off duty is to have someone start hurling epithets at you on grounds of the work you do. When I finish work and head off for a margarita at some Santa Cruz hostelry, I don't want to have people who recognize me shouting "Pedant!" or "Correctness freak!" in my face. But in fact there's no law to prevent people accusing an honest grammarian, such as I, of being innumerate, female, jejune, sexless, or even postmodernist. Well, soon there also won't be any law against insulting the virtue of a woman, of any kind, in Washington state. In this country where free speech has gone from principle to mantra and from mantra to mania, it looks like speech is about to get even more free.

Posted by Geoffrey K. Pullum at February 11, 2005 01:57 AM