25 November 2011

Go 1327 yourself!

There's some truly bizarre news coming out of Pakistan. 1 500 words have been banned for use in text messages, because they are said to be obscene.


If this was April 1st, it'd be easier to explain the bizarre news coming out of Pakistan. The relevant state authority has ordered mobile operators to block all text messages containing any of a specific list of some 1 500 "obscene" words.

 It was probably unavoidable, but unwise to draw up such a specific list, as it inevitably reveals more about the complexly smutty minds of the list's authors than about actual obscenity. Supposedly the daft idea arose because some folks had been complaining that they had received text messages they found offensive, and had apparently never discovered a delete button, nor recognising the health advantages of being occasionally offended.  

I strongly suspect that behind this daft exercise, are those hypersensitive folks you find the world over who always get outraged by proxy. (Usually called something such as Outraged from Brakpan) You know the sort - highly indignant about what happens to other people, who, they feel, are insufficiently irked about it. They deplore the suggestiveness of advertising, or fashions, often emphasising that they themselves are of course immune to such smut, but very bothered about the damage it will do to others, less strong than themselves.

I really can't imagine anyone ever sent a saucy SMS or e-mail to these folks, actually using any of the condemned terms. More likely, after deciding to act on only a few complaints, they sat down and drew up a listing of every horrible word or phrase they could think of. What a meeting that must have been, and what a bizarre list it is. In the interests of serving our readers, especially those planning to SMS a pal in Pakistan, I have read through the list.

The usual suspects are indeed there, and many most of us would agree they're offensive. And we've never used them in any SMS. But many of the banned are just bizarre and quaint.

There's been a lot of attention paid to the inclusion of 'Jesus Christ' and 'got Jesus'. What's bothersome is that these are not excluded when used in a profane or rude fashion, but simply utterly excluded from any use whatever. And other religious terms are not thus proscribed.

This reminds me so much of the clumsy censorship DSTV usually applies, often at random and even if you have deliberately set your decoder to "Original Language ". It may allow through really unpleasant language, and of course ignores hideous cruelties in horror films, but will insistently cut out "God" and "Christ", even where they are being used almost prayerfully, as though these were the dirtiest words in town.

Almost as annoying as a particular prelate in Natal who used to provide a boring religious message each morning on the radio, who always spoke of 'Guard' and sometimes 'the Lard Guard', making the deity sound like a security operative at a margarine factory.

The banned words are mainly English. Research has shown that when you drop a brick on your toes, you generally swear in your mother tongue - but apparently in Pakistan people prefer to be obscene in a more universal language. There are a few words in Urdu, such as 'bewaquf' (foolish) and 'bakwaas' (nonsense), which are innocuous. But none in other regional languages, such as Punjabi.

They've been curiously industrious, listing 51 terms for the rear end, and even finding 8 or more obscenities involving 'foot'. Beating your meat is familiar and banned, but so is 'flogging the dolphin'? How about 'handling the porpoise'?

Offence of course lies in the eye and mind of the beholder. 'Breasts' are verboten, but not 'breast', so you may address them one at a time, but not jointly, as it were. Alternatives are also frowned on. Presumably this is why "Head Lights" are banned, though this might make it difficult to order spare parts from a motor vehicle supplier. 'Bazooms', 'bazongas', 'gonzagas', 'knockers', and 'hooters', similarly. But 'melons' is fine. And 'dip-stick' is out. 'Boob' is a no-no, and 'hand job', but 'boob job' seems OK.

'Back door' may not be used, so you'll have to leave all packages for your correspondents at the front door, which is considered entirely innocent. But don't suggest anything should be done 'harder', 'deeper' or 'looser', though 'faster' is fine.

The triumph of dirty little minds

Medical messages will become difficult, as you may not mention 'tongue', 'intercourse', 'period', 'herpes', 'premature' or 'condom'. 'Premature' is disallowed, but 'orgasm', I think, seems to be OK. 'Uterus' and 'urine' are forbidden, as are 'lactate' and 'KY'. 'Deposit' is banned, as is 'withdrawal', which could be a problem for on-line banking instructions.

You may not mention "four twenty", for which I can't find any saucy usage. There were four-and-twenty virgins who came down from Kirriemuir, and 24 blackbirds baked in a pie, but offensive? No 'fingerfood' nor 'creamy' ( warn your caterer). And no 'porchmonkey', whatever that is.

'Masturbation' seems to be OK, but not if its wrongly spelled - the group seems touchingly (if I might say so) concerned about restricting the dyslexic or just bad spellers, as they carefully list many mis-spellings of  banned words. 'Smagma' is banned but not 'smegma' (a respectable medical term, which always sounds to me like a character in Lord of the Rings).  'Gonorrehea' is banned, but not if correctly spelled. 'Idiot' may not be used, nr even "idoit" as an idiot might spell it. You may not speak of  'insest', but it's fine to chat about 'incest'.  Neither 'lesbian' nor 'lesbain' is accepted. You may not say someone is 'waysted', but 'wasted' is just fine.

Totally mystifying taboos are 'taxi', 'kumquat' and 'mango'! 'Athlete's Foot' (or 'athletesfoot'). 'Lotion'. 'Flatulence'. 'Glazed donut'. 'Blackout', 'Budweiser', 'camel toe', 'carpet muncher', 'clam digger', 'fatso', 'dahmer', 'fondle', 'XXX', 'full stop', 'honkey' and 'hooker'. 'Nookie', 'oui', 'playboy', 'hen house', 'tramp', 'stroke', 'slant', 'retard', and 'showtime'. 'K-Mart'.  No 'axing the weasel' (?),  but 'pop goes the weasel' is fine. 'Dome' is OK, but not 'cupola'.

Remember, these are banned from use in supposedly private messages sent between private citizens, adults, even spouses. Jemima Khan, the ex-wife of politician and cricketer Imran Khan, has tweeted: "I'm going to make sure I include 'monkey crotch' in every text to Pakistani friends from this day forth".

Texters will be ingenious, of course. Some are already substituting the number on the list of banned terms for the actual words. "You 14, 38!" she screamed. "Why don't you 1048 your 293 in the 784? "

(Professor MA Simpson, November 2011)







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