[Lexicog] offensive words in dictionaries

Koontz John E john.koontz at COLORADO.EDU
Tue May 25 00:29:41 UTC 2004

On Sun, 23 May 2004, William J Poser wrote:
> So one edition of the dictionary had an expurgated
> main volume with a separate dirty word supplement.

Allan Taylor followed this approach in his drafts of the White Clay People
(a/k/a Atsina or Gros Ventre) Dictionary.  He called the supplement Index
Verborum Prohiborum by analogy with the Catholic index of forbidden works,
I think.  The words in question were flagged in the database to permit
extracting them and/or excluding them.  I believe he decided on this
approach after talking with his sponsors.

I think a fair amount of avoidance of this sort is typical in modern
Plains societies, and reflects the attitudes of the mainstream American
culture in which they are embedded.  By contrast vocabulary for the sex
act and the sex organs is pretty regular and reconstructable in, say,
Siouan, and rampant in stories considered suitable for adults and children
both as well as present or folk-etymologized into things like clan names
or ethnonyms.  On the other hand, terms for 'black bear' are pretty much
limited to descriptions like 'the black one', though there are traces of a
non-descriptive term, too.  There are similar issues with terms for
snakes.  One doesn't mention the thunderbirds or constellations casually
and in some Plains cultures it's considered unfortunate to mention the
names of the recent dead.

Ironically, in regard to the WCP IVP, when I gathered up accumulated
stacks of discarded one-sided prints from the Plains Center and took them
over to my kids' daycare center as scratch paper - kids that age like to
draw and go through paper like crazy - I apparently included various
prints of the IVP, having forgotten its existence.  These sheets caused
considerable consternation, followed, thankfully, by hilarity.  The
children never knew what was up, but the teachers noticed or maybe it was
some of the parents - I never heard which.  I was a bit embarassed when I
found out, but they apparently took it well, considering some of the
things I remember being in it.

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