Thursday, March 4, 2010

This "Sex" Which Is Not One

I've received a bunch of notes in response to my recent FAQ entry on the name of the Sexsmith font. They've mostly been favorable, but tonight I received this:

Thank you for your response about the "Sexsmith" font title. While I appreciate your quick wit and understand your frustration, my seven year old students (and their moms and dads) probably won't appreciate it as much. So while I love to play on your site, I am unable to provide my young friends with an opportunity to be technology-forward in their learning. It is unfortunate that one thing prohibits that, but it also sucks that I could get fired for allowing my kids to play with a site that has "Sex" anywhere on it, no matter the context.

Thanks for being so understanding,
[Name Withheld]

I have to admit that on this point I am not "understanding". It seems completely insane to me, and insane in a characteristically American way. In no other country could there be such a force-field of anxiety around the juxtaposition of three letters. In this case it's particularly bizarre, given that the word "Sexsmith" has nothing whatsoever to do with "sex". It has to do with seaxes. And while I'd love to stop using "sex" as a weapon, I'm afraid I can't buck history (or philology) on this one.

But, for the sake of argument, let's pretend that we're actually talking about, you know, it, or matters related to it. Out of curiosity, in one of these benighted school districts where evolution is "just a theory" and Ptolemaic cosmology is on equal footing with Copernican, what word are you permitted to use when you need to denote that property of a person that is determined by the presence or absence of a Y chromosome? Do you call it "gender"? What kind of reproduction is practiced by most multicellular lifeforms on Earth? Genderual?

For that matter, what instrument did Christopher Columbus use to determine his latitude? Trick question! He used a quadrant, not a gendertant.

I suppose we should all be grateful that I chose not to use this font; it would be a lot harder to fully justify.

Monday, March 1, 2010

What happened?

On Saturday evening, I received an email concerning a perceived trademark infringement on the part of the Wordle web site. In the spirit of "better safe than sorry", I took the site down right away.

Because of the unbelievable ruckus that ensued on Twitter and in the blogosphere—even the WaPo picked up TechCrunch's story—I quickly found myself in possession of meaningful information and legal counsel.

Unfortunately, I can't give you any details about exactly what the facts are, and what I'm doing about them. I can tell you that a very kind, warm, and competent IP lawyer is helping me.

In a way, I feel like I've won my own little version of the DARPA Network Challenge. Instead of finding 10 red balloons, I found a handful of lawyers (and ex-lawyers, of whom there seem to be many). Can I get DARPA to write me a check for $40K? There have got to be defense applications of Wordle, right?

I cordially thank the many people who wrote to me offering support, and who used various social media to discuss this spot of bother.