“I’m outraged because Spelling Bee censored a perfectly good word I entered. Sure, some people might find it offensive, but it has an innocuous meaning too, and it’s never offensive when I use it.”
We would hardly call that censorship. We also wouldn’t call it tyranny, thought policing, political correctness run amok, or any other flavor of brazen attempt rob you of your precious freedoms.
What we would call it is a gesture of kindness, empathy and inclusivity.
Yes, we all know that this word has certain benign definitions that are in no way offensive. No one disputes this. We all know how language works. But the way we know how to interpret a word like this is by taking it in context. The surrounding words, the tone of voice, the emphasis and inflection all combine to help us understand whether someone is using the word in a harmless or hateful sense.
In a puzzle like Spelling Bee, all that surrounding context is missing. The only thing we see is a lone word blaring its bad self in bold capital letters. How we react to it in this setting depends entirely on our own personal associations and experience. The only context we have is the context we ourselves bring.
For many of us, that context will be mild and inoffensive. For many others of us, however, those associations will be unpleasant and hateful, possibly even violent. Isn’t it fair to exercise a little consideration and compassion on behalf of players who may have experienced actual harm from it? Isn’t it worth sacrificing a few measly points so those players aren’t forced to type such a hurtful word to finish the puzzle?
Look, we don’t believe anyone at The New York Times is trying to claim this isn’t a word, nor that they’ve undertaken a sinister campaign to expunge it from the English language. The word is still listed in the dictionary, and you’re still free to use it in the real world in any way you’re comfortable with, without fear of being hauled off to word jail. In our opinion, you’re simply seeing an attempt to make Spelling Bee as pleasant and welcoming a diversion as possible for as many players as possible. The puzzle should be fun for everyone, and we think that’s a good thing.