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.

14 comments:

Mimzy said...

Yeah, um, please don't remove the font. I know you probably aren't planning to, but just sayin'. It's ridiculous what lengths people go to in this country to "protect innocent children" from something the media bombards them with hourly.

Ray Larabie said...

In the decade since I released Sexsmith, I haven't received any email complaining about the name. Some of other font names were changed so they could be shipped with software products.

Wake & Bake: If you don't know it means sparking up a joint first thing in the morning. I later changed it to "Waker".

Stitch & Bitch: a discontinued Helvetica traced with a dotted outline. My aunt used to go to "stitch & bitch" sessions with her friends. Presumably they were bitching about men. But a few Amercians complained. Yeah, for school teachers I can see the word bitch it being a problem outside of the female dog context.

Sexsmith complaints are just plain bizarre. I think it has less to do with prudishness and more to do with a lack of education. I think if those people knew about sexdecillion, sextet, unisex, sextant and listened to Ron Sexsmith, they could differentiate those three letters. I'm sure those same teachers people use the world class with their class even though it CLEARLY contains ass.

Rubisco said...

Here in NY, our "Race to the Top" funding is contingent upon our having nothing to do with Ron Sexsmith.

...You should swap it for comic sans...

Dennis Ada,s said...

And "sex" is Latin for "six" -- what to make of "sextuplets"?

Abhijit Kiran said...

Bizzare. Seriously, if people have problems with words because a part of it may seem obscene, then something is wrong with them. To be thinking in such a fashion as to find obscene "sub-words", if I may, in a not-at-all obscene word is just sad. Of course, in this case, I am sure almost everybody would have thought of this word like this, but may be just for a second or so.

데이빛 / Mithridates said...

It actually sounds like a good opportunity to teach kids about etymology to me. The kids would probably all want to try out the Sexsmith font to see what it looks like, and then get bored of it. If they ask then explain how words change over time.

By the way, I discovered Wordle today and am finding it perfect for making frequency lists:

http://www.pagef30.com/2010/03/how-to-use-wordle-to-learn-vocabulary.html

There are a lot of them here on Wiktionary,

http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Wiktionary:Frequency_lists

but only for a few languages.

The other problem with them is that they usually use uninflected forms, so the word fought will register as fight, children turn to child, and thus the student gets no benefit from encountering irregular and inflected forms that he would otherwise encounter when using a language. So in that way Wordle is actually better. The other good thing about it is that the most frequent words jump out at you so you can't ignore them forever. With other vocabulary lists they're just one of many and all come at you with the same size, but using that technique (constantly resubmitting the text after removing words you've already learned) means that any words you try to ignore will get bigger and bigger until you can't help but pay attention to them.

Woodentop said...

I agree with your comments on the juxtaposition of three little letters causing 'issues' for certain rather uptight folks... perhaps you shouldn't use this font either http://www.dafont.com/wet-dream.font !!

Brown Sugar Maple Cinnamon said...

I think Wordle should change the name at least. What if kids ask what it is (doubt they would)? Why not change that font to "Boldsmith" instead?

Jonathan Feinberg said...

No; I think "Gendersmith" is the way to go.

Hannah said...

I would also like to thank you for your Sexsmith FAQ. I didn't know it was named after Ron Sexsmith, but I think of him nearly every time I use it! (weird coincidence...I think it has to do with a nearly unhealthy obsession of Cry Cry Cry as a teenager)

Also, I didn't know about seaxes as the origin of such words as Essex. So thanks, cause I learned some fun tidbits!

And good point about using the word "sex" to refer to one's genetic/biological sex assignment. Because gender and sex are very different, so to use them interchangeably is so much more offensive than letting kids hear or read a totally normal word with many different meanings, all of which are healthy and normal. You know, in my opinion.

Mitch Argon said...

Jonathan - I stumbled on your tool today and found using it quite fun. The dialog here on your use of the "GenderSmith" font, however, has brought me more entertainment for the moment! If all of this silliness were to land a live TV interview, I'd definitely DVR it! I think it is about time for the pendulum to swing the other way...

philho said...

Hey, I actually learned something today, about seaxes... I knew the (name of the) songwriter, but was wondering about the origin of his name. Now, it makes sense!

Note: this reminds me of child "protections" or even spam catchers based solely on (partial) word matching.
In a forum I help to moderate, we were inundated of spam alerts about message having "width" or "video" in them.
It is a forum about Processing, language where width (of drawing surface) is a very common keyword and video processing quite common...

David Jenkins said...

What a shame that the children of New York can't be taught about words and to learn to love them not to fear them. 3 cheers for Sexsmith and the etymological learning I've derived from theis exchange.

C.C. Sadler said...

I was thinking about Ron Sexsmith! He is a quasi-famous Canadian singer! I think that is his real name. What if he was a parent or teacher? "Hey, Mr. Sexmith!"