Wednesday, December 3, 2008

How Saying S**t Can Save the World

BOULDER, Colorado -- Shit, especially the human kind, causes a lot of problems. In most countries, there are wholly inadequate systems for dealing with the stuff - there are no proper sanitation and treatment systems, let alone toilets for people to sit on. This causes all manner of public health problems, such as euphemistically-termed "waterborne diseases" and a lack of clean drinking water.

British journalist Rose George addresses these issues in her new book The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters. In it, she examines not only the big public health issues related to shit, but also the social factors that have allowed some societies to embrace solutions to the poo problem, while in others significant impediments remain.

One serious problem is that no one likes to talk about it. In English, there is no polite substitute for shit. "Excrement," "feces," and "waste" all have a ring of medical euphemism, and we can all use them without thinking about the product or the deed. Perhaps in American English, using the Britishism "shite," or the improper past tense of the verb, "shat," are less profane than straight-up "shit," but this is hardly a solution.

The word is entirely unspeakable in the news media, and mostly unprintable, though some newspapers have relaxed their arcane decency standards. Nothing doing for the New York Times, though, which refuses to print any form of profanity. In their interviews with George, they prefer instead to use the word "poop," repeatedly, than allow the stain of "shit" on the Gray Lady.

The Economist has a review of the book, as well as an audio interview with the author that is worth a listen - they use the word "shit" dozens of times, much to my delight.

So, we can logically conclude that the New York Times is giving millions of poor people cholera and dysentery.

No comments:

Post a Comment