How a Nobel prize winner got fired

Timothy Richard Hunt is a biologist who won the Nobel Prize.  A faculty member at University College London, a fellow of the Royal Society, and a fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, he was knighted for his accomplishments.  But he said this in a speech:

“Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they’re in the lab: You fall in love with them; they fall in love with you; and when you criticize them they cry.”

A lame attempt at humor.  Offensive to women.  Politically incorrect. So he got fired from all of his positions!  Even though he has a Nobel Prize!  (I wonder if they can take that away from him.)

Lesson:  No one is safe making those kinds of remarks.  You can’t joke about this kind of thing.  Your intentions won’t count.  Your career will be in jeopardy.  For all of our alleged lack of inhibitions, we do have social taboos and you will be punished if you break them.  Even if you have a Nobel Prize. [Read more...]

Changing language taboos

Some words are taboo, so that when they are used they constitute the “bad language” of socially inappropriate “swearing.”  Those taboo words used to consist of the irreverent use of religious language.  Then words about sex and “bodily functions” became taboo swear words.  Now,  profanity (words that profane what is sacred) and obscenity (words about what is done “out of the scene,” or out of sight, referring to sex and excretion) have become commonplace, even in public social situations.

Our culture doesn’t take religion or the body as seriously any more, so words about them are not so shocking.  Now our forbidden words are “slurs,” words that denigrate racial, ethnic, gender, or sexual groups.  The shock of hearing those taboo words and the social disapproval they create are equivalent to what the old “bad language” used to create.  So says linguist Randall Eggert, who discusses ‘how the n-word became the new f-word.” [Read more...]

Get offended

The management of this blog is taking no position on the controversy over the use of Native American references as names of sports teams.  This post simply draws your attention to the recent “Style Invitational,” a regular feature in the Washington Post that sets up humorous challenges and asks readers to send in entries.  Last Sunday published the results of a contest “in which we asked you to be offended by a name that most people haven’t thought to be offended by yet.”  Some of the funnier entries:

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Condoning piracy — the scourge of our intellectual-property rights — gives the wrong message. A good name should celebrate creativity: I suggest the Tampa Bay Digital Rights Management. (Martin Bancroft, Issaquah, Wash.) [Read more...]


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