Censorship and Obscenity
Henry Hitchings was born in 1974. He is the author of The Secret Life of Words, Who’s Afraid of Jane Austen?, and Defining the World. He has contributed to many newspapers and magazines and is the theater critic for the London Evening Standard. The following is an adapted excerpt from his book The Language Wars: A History of Proper English.
Political correctness is an invitation to practise self-censorship: to conform to a model of fairness. This brings us to the larger issue of what we are not permitted to say, what we are discouraged from saying, and what we elect to say only in very particular circumstances.
Censorship has a long history, and so does opposition to it. Indeed, it is the practice of policing what people are allowed to say that creates opportunities for subterfuge. The main concern of censorship is smothering ideas, yet because language is the vehicle of ideas censorship has often seemed to be above all else an attempt to muffle language or extinguish it. You can jail a person, but not an idea. There are two forms of censorship. One is interference in advance of publication – by the state or by some other authority such as the Church. The other is action after publication: lawsuits and financial penalties. (more…)