What Makes an Offense Offensive? Part I
Let’s get serious. For four years I’ve been commenting on a range of behaviors, most of them verbal outbursts, that everyone seems to agree were offensive. These have included insults, put-downs,
Supreme Court again K-Os Ban on Offensive Speech
Several hours ago as I write, the Supreme Court knocked out the Scandalous Clause in the Lanham Act, the federal trademark statute, Read more..
Offenses of the First Quarter, January-February-March, 2019
Voltaire, that incorrigible philosophe
, the celebrated Enlightenment liberal and Read more..
FUCT again! The United States v. Offensive Speech
It seems I overstepped nineteen months ago in claiming that in a unanimous ruling involving disparaging trademarks, “the Supreme Court, presumably once and for all, has green lighted offensive spee
Offense of the Month, December 2018
How do you get to be an offender of the month? If you’re in the right place at the right time — or maybe make that the wrong place at the wrong time — it’s
The Curious Case of Sarah Jeong
The sense of offense is finely calibrated. It can detect an insult in a nanosecond and score it as a vile disparagement or a brilliant riposte, as contemptible or courageous, as harmful or enlightenin
Megyn Kelly Flames Out
Offense of the Month, October 2018
Trump and his coven aside (it would be hard, nay, probably impossible, for anyone else to compete), the October 2018 offense-of-the-month designee, hands down, is M
Offense of the Month, September 2018
In this time of the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, there are many candidates in the contest for offender of the month. For example, Rep. Ralph Norman (R.-SC), who dist
Contrary to the fears of some, the little house on the prairie has not vanished. Well, perhaps the house itself, but not Little House on the Prairie
, or any of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s other
Turtles, but not all the way down
Offense of the Month July 2018
Probably not the most offensive display this month, probably not even by a longshot, but it’s the quirkiest that has come to my attention. To be sure, it’s the dog
The interesting thing about ABC’s defenestration of Roseanne Barr two weeks ago when she gratuitously tweeted a racist remark about President Obama’s senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, is that it was
Offense of the Month, May 2018
Kelly Sadler and the White House communications team take dual honors. I declare two winners of the coveted title this month because the offense was compounded by an un
Mum’s the Word
The Mum in this case is Barbara Bush, who died April 17. The word, in case you’ve already forgotten, was “racist.”
A Slur on the Slab
Words have power. The official story (the story, that is, that we forward-looking, empirically-inclined, reasonable rationalists like to tell) is that their power stems from the ideas that our words e
Pardon my Procrastination
At first I thought I’d tiptoe around my procrastination these past three-plus months, pretending that it was some dark lump you wouldn’t see if I aimed the spotlight elsewhere. You might never hav
Taking a Knee
If you’ve been hoping I could make sense of the passing scene, lo these many weeks, your long wait is over. At last, events have crystallized and I can now take on the most important issue confronti
My Slant on Matal v. Tam: Welcome to My T-Word X-Word G-Word O-Word Z-Word Co., Inc., or Death to the Happy-Talk Clause
It’s old news now, having happened about 30 hours ago as I write, but my long absence from the blog this spring shows that this first day of summer I’m moving at superluminal speed. I do so to bri
The Winter of Our Disconnect
My Trump Timeout has timed out. It’s high time to get on with things. A few of my more daring friends are way ahead of me, and one or two never tuned out. They’ve actually been reading the papers
The year of living offensively
Offensiveness won. Or lost. It’s really the same thing: it just depends on how you come at it.
For more than a year, the press has treated Americans to a tsunami of stories about offensiveness. T
Gingrich Gets Giddy
Offense of the Month: July 2016
I never supposed a top Republican could outdo Candidate-Presumptive Donald Trump in offending American citizens with political rhetoric, but I’m willing to name Newt
An Inoffensive Road Trip
Just returned from a 4,000-mile round trip to the Rockies. It took us by car from the east coast to Cleveland, Ann Arbor, Chicago, Omaha, Lincoln, Cheyenne, Boulder, Denver, and back via Colby (KS), K
Donald Trump, Olympian Offender
Offense of the Month: June 2016
He’s back — well, at least in my columns. He’s been daily on your other screens, I know, though we can pray that two or three years from now today’s junior hig
Scrub ’em clean
I’ve been away from the blog for a couple of weeks, writing the first draft of the proposal for the book Taking Offense
. During that time, I’ve been musing about a problem that has loomed
Less Majesty, More Speech in Germany
Offense of the Month: May 2016
Have you heard the one about the president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan? No, that’s not an insult; that’s his name. But just about anything else said of him can
AO in One Easy Lesson
I missed it at the time, so this is a retrospective reflection on a curious blunder last March, when Microsoft unleashed an AI bot to talk to millennials on the Web. (Now there’s
Offense of the Month: April 2016
Richard Emery, chairman of New York City’s Civilian Complaint Review Board, which oversees actions of the police department, stepped down (“resigned abruptly,”
Fine-Grained Offense Filters
If you strain at gnats you can usually find them or, searching even more closely, gnats’ gnats or smaller. All you need is a fine enough sieve. Same with fine-grained Offense Filters, which seem to
A New Bus Ride
A doll with measles? Or a colostomy bag? I’m talking here about a whole a new bus ride.
Aficionados of “critical offense studies” (henceforth, COS) will know the reference. In one of the ve
Harvard Law School Shears Its Shield
After months of study, a Harvard Law School committee recommended to Dean Martha Minow on March 3 that the School jettison a shield it has used for 80 years because it is based on the crest of a slave
Wanted: Zombies without a Past
Offense of the Month: March 2016
Whatever you do, don’t do it. At least if you’re a retailer that, let’s say, sells bathing suits, polo shirts, mittens, and whatnot.
Lands’ End thought to
Polysemy, Now You Don’t
I’ve been thinking about people who proclaim themselves offended by words for which they mistakenly assume the wrong meaning. A celebrated example is “niggardly,” the use of which cost an aide t
Football Über Alles
Offense of the Month: February 2016.
Must be the silly season in Iowa. On January 1, Stanford University, the football team, beat the University of Iowa football team in the Rose Bowl, 45–16. But t
Watch that killer metaphor!
Offensive — or merely tasteless? No, not the Iowa primaries; I cover only serious things. But we can tarry in Iowa to consider this item, which I stumbled across as I’ve been attempting, at a snai
Disparaging Trademarks: This Time It’s “Slants”
In what may prove to be a major First Amendment ruling in favor of offensive trademarks, a federal appeals court in Washington on December 22 said that the federal government may not refuse to registe
Offensive Inoffensiveness: Tale of the Red Cup
A curious species of the penchant for feeling offended is what, henceforth, I will call “Offensive Inoffensiveness.” For the past several years a frenzied form of it pops up annually as the calend
What would Santa say?
'Tis the season — though I'm not sure why. (Should I be offended at Santa Claus showing up before Halloween?) Anyway, some retailers got in trouble with consumers this week for jokes that misfired.
“Panties Off” Defense to Redskins’ Offense
Just when you thought you’d heard it all: In 2014, you may recall, a federal trademark appeal board cancelled the trademark registration of the Washington, DC, professional football team’s name, t
Making Sense of the Flotsam
Stuffed into folders, stacked on my desktop, and strewn about elsewhere are random piles of articles more or less about “offense.” It’s time to put them into some kind of order. That will no dou
Offense of the Month: November 2015.
A little hard to classify, this one. You’ve probably already read the story. A black woman in a hoodie is taking morning exercise in the street in her neighborh
An Offense Sense?
Like you, I’ve been offended, off and on, by one thing or another, on this day or that, all my life. But I’d be hard-pressed to tell you what any of those things were. Which is part of the point.
Offense of the Month, July 2015:
The most widely remarked offense of the month was Donald Trump's bad-mouthing Sen. John McCain for being held captive in a brutal North Vietnamese POW