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  • RSS Taking Offense

    • May I call you Mr. Potato Head, instead of, oh, I blush to say?
      Offense of the Month, June 2020 I’ve generally used the Offense-of-the-Month space to highlight knuckleheaded instances of offensiveness: not usually premeditated, but ostentatious nevertheless, produced by that sui generis creature, the Great American Dimwit. This month I offer the Tale of the Offensive Name, a story much making the rounds the past ten days. It […]
    • Hello, It’s Linda
      At least four times a week for the past several months I’ve had phone calls from Robogal. “Hello, it’s Linda,” she begins, in her unvarying, always perfectly inflected voice. Not tremulous or saccharine; not overbold or tentative; not gruff or timid; not hesitant or strident; not cheerless or giddy; not glum or lighthearted; not solemn […]
    • From contact sport to social distancing
      Offenses of the Months: Winter-Spring 2020 By mid-April, according to NASA satellite images, Covid-19 has prompted a 30% drop in air pollution in the northeastern United States. Social distancing seems to be having a similar effect on commentary about offensiveness, even if our propensity to offend hasn’t much changed (and who could measure that)? In […]
    • 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, verbal wounds, snubs, slights, and other sorts of humiliations; disdainful, derisive, scornful, and contemptuous slurs; disparaging, discrediting, disrespectful, belittling, and derogatory snubs; jibes, affronts, […]
    • A Potpourri of Idiocies
      Offenses of the Months, 2019 A good way to appreciate our times is to sample tidbits and morsels from the slush pile of reportage on the American penchant for being gratuitously offensive. I offer here a small sample, in random categories and without regard to chronology, of stories that have bubbled up through 2019 to […]
    • 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, as predicted here last January, though by a smaller margin than I expected, and with a loophole that could but is unlikely to be exploited, at least not soon. The vote in the […]
    • Time Bombs
      Offenses of the First Quarter, January-February-March, 2019 Voltaire, that incorrigible philosophe, the celebrated Enlightenment liberal and probable anti-Semite, may have been having fun when he reputedly told Mme. Emilie du Chatelet that “history is only a pack of tricks that we play upon the dead.” Which leads me to the probably not wholly original observation, […]
    • 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 speech.” In Matal v. Tam, you may recall, the Court struck down a law that banned registration of trademarks that disparage people, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols. […]
    • Mocking Misery
      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 pretty easy. You can do it in just three simple steps: (1) Take insensitive […]
    • 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 enlightening, as doleful or droll, as wretched or risible, all according to the recipient’s sense of identity, community, and ideology. Such is […]