The Worst Words

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During my school years, my university implemented a new email filter. It wasn’t a censor, per se, since you were able to send any message you wished, regardless of swears or sexy words. However, it rated emails by how “hot” they were and a racy message incited a pop-up asking something to the effect of, “Are you sure you want to send this message as is? Your recipient may find some of the language offensive.” A mild message earned one chili pepper, a racier message earned two, and a message with a big gun like the F-word earned three spicy peppers and a more strongly worded caution against sending. It was a whole lot of fun to see what words piqued the attention of the censor program, and we spent hours testing the system with combinations of curses and scandalous language. Vagina, we were outraged to learn, earned a couple of peppers, but penis didn’t set off any alarms. Occasionally it was mystifying to type an ordinary message to a friend or colleague only to have the filter message pop up: “Are you sure you want to send this message as is?” You’d go back and read your email to find the mysterious naughty phrase that had set off the alarm, like I cocked my head or the exam was harder than I thought.

It looks like texters in Pakistan will have a similar hurdle to jump through while composing their mobile phone messages. The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has dreamt up 1,500 “obnoxious” words to ban, according to The Guardian (Nov 17, 2011). It must have been quite a brainstorming session coming up with all the no-no words: everything from quickie to deposit to love pistol to flogging the dolphin. So no more asking your friend if she has time for a quickie lunch, your husband if he has made the check deposit yet, or your lover if he is done flogging the dolphin. And unfortunately for users, a flagged message won’t just get a few chili peppers tacked on, it will get the text blocked and, in the event of repeat offenses, service disconnected. “Mobile phone firms were ordered to stop messages including the offending words this week,” reports the London newspaper, “although tests by the Guardian suggested the blocking technology was not 100% effective.” (Just like my classmates and me, it seems Guardian editors couldn’t resist going straight to testing the system and snickering over which words were banned and which weren’t.)

The ban was enacted in response to consumer complaints about offensive texts, says a PTA spokesperson: “Nobody would like this happening to their young boy or girl.” I should think alerting kids to fun new dirty phrases like pocket pool and beat your meat wouldn’t be the most effective way to keep communications clean. But as Mashable (Nov 21, 2011) reports, “Pakistan is no stranger to digital bans from the government. In May 2010, the country blocked Facebook for two weeks after a competition to draw the Prophet Mohammed sparked controversy. YouTube was blocked temporarily in 2008 following news that images from a competition to draw the Prophet Mohammed had leaked onto the site.”

Sources: The Guardian, Mashable

Images by tore_urnes and Emily Rachel Hildebrand, licensed under Creative Commons.

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