For many years now, I’ve had great fun inserting certain words into my news stories and columns in order to make an editor’s head pop off.

Great fun, I say. On a quiet day, you can actually hear the delicious sound of cranial detachment as the editor in question stumbles upon the verboten word.

POP, goes the editor’s head. This is followed by the angry sound of the delete button, and then the substitutions begin.

You’ll know the substitutions when you see them. If you are reading my work (we’ll just presume you’re in jail or something and there’s absolutely nothing else to read) and you happen upon words like “darn,” “gosh,” “son of a gun,” “butt” or “poop,” you’ll know that an editor has been hard at work softening the crassness of my thoughts.

I appreciate them for it, I really do. And while there is no official list of forbidden words for reporters here at the paper (that I know of, anyway — I’ve never actually read the employee handbook), there is definitely a sizable collection of nouns, adjectives and at least one delightfully vulgar gerund that can cause so much editor head-popping, it sounds like someone is dancing on bubble wrap here in the newsroom.

Good times. And while it all reminds me of George Carlin’s list of seven words you cannot say on television (turns out you cannot use them in an obituary, either), that’s not the (vulgar gerund) point. The point is that in addition to all this, the U.S. government now admits that there exists a group of nearly 400 words that may cause it to monitor anyone who utters them.

The list includes the obvious red flag words like “assassination,” “explosive” and “bomb,” but it also includes seemingly prosaic words such as “plume,” “leak,” “swine,” “blackout,” “Tijuana,” “pirates,” “Trojan” and “worm.”

I take this matter very seriously, and not only because I had planned to use just about all of those words in the title of my autobiography. I mean, how troubling is it to know that teams of government workers in sunglasses are prowling Facebook, Twitter and your personal blog at all hours in search of obvious threats to humankind who use words like “pork,” “infection” and “gerbil,” while plotting their diabolical schemes?

OK, “gerbil” isn’t actually on the list, but maybe after Bruce from Homeland Security reads this column, it will be added.

The irony is that the government list doesn’t include a single word from the “editor-head-pop” list, and neither of those two lists contain any of Carlin’s seven dirty words. There’s absolutely no crossover, which means that the number of words that aren’t safe to use anymore is just sprawling away toward infinity.

And the consequences grow more dire by the day. I once wrote into a column a dangling participle so filthy, the editor on the copy desk broke her delete button and had to take a sick day. The worst I got was a mean look and another round of the human resource department’s sensitivity training. Which is life-changing, by the way. I recommend it, even if you don’t actually work here.

But utter, scrawl or scribble the wrong Homeland Security “word of concern?” Hoo, boy! That’s how you end up getting a full cavity search at the airport or worse, a full cavity search while you’re just sitting at home minding your own business.

You know what? Now that I think about it, I suspect “cavity” might be one of those words that sets off the editors around here.

I guess we’ll find out together, won’t we?

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer and a butt cavity, according to his editors. Email him at [email protected]


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