March 09, 2007

The new p-word

We've talked a lot about taboo words in our Language Log posts. To refresh your memory, Arnold Zwicky has a nice list of them here. Public censorship apparently is on the march, forbidding newspapers, television, and even libraries to use certain words relating to ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, body functions and even anatomically correct body parts.

Now it's polar bears, at least for U.S. scientists attending meetings abroad (see here). The plight of polar bears associates  naturally with global climate change these days. But recently these scientists got a memo from the Fish and Wildlife Service telling them to can it. MSNBC reports some of what the memo said:

Listed as a "new requirement" for foreign travelers on U.S. government business, the memo says that requests for foreign travel "involving or potentially involving climate change, sea ice, and/or polar bears" require special handling, including notice of who will be the official spokesman for the trip. The Fish and Wildlife Service top officials need assurance that the spokesman, "the one responding to questions on these issues, particlularly polar bears" understands the administration's position on these topics.

You get the connection. Polar bears are being considered under the Endangered Species Act because scientific reports say their icy habitat is being melted by global warming. And the plight of these white-furred behemoths (I'm practicing not using the p-word here) may be an indicator of our need to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Now we wouldn't want that, would we?

So, you mad scientists, don't mention polar bears!

Posted by Roger Shuy at March 9, 2007 05:48 PM