Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Web Filtering and Language

They New York Times is reporting that Canada's second oldest magazine, The Beaver is changing its name to Canada's History due to Internet filters - both content filters in schools and spam filters in e-mail - blocking access because the word beaver can also refer, to use the phrasing of the not-currently-available-in-schools Merriam-Webster dictionary, to the pudenda of a woman.

While a name change had been discussed as far back as the 70s, the issue finally came to a head because of filtering software.

Obviously, the problem is that our filters can't handle the many-to-many relationships of words and meanings. But, since writers and publishers have greater incentive than the filters to make sure their content is always accessible, they will naturally avoid any word that could trigger the filter.

And, as those who seek to get sexually explicit content past filters extend the range of words with sexual connotations, more and more words will become off limits for non-sexual communication. And our language will become less interesting.

A the title The Beaver for a Canadian history magazine already tells us something important about the role of the Castoridae family of animals in the history of Canada, as well as the history of the magazine, which was founded by the Hudson's Bay Company.

The title Canada's History is merely a bland description of the contents. Bland, of course, being more desirable than blocked.

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