Confronting the Word(le) police

In recent times, it isn’t rare that one reads a piece of news that seems so ludicrous that you check the calendar to verify if the date is April 1st. You even think the news outlet may have launched a satire section but forgot to label it. In the subsequent days, you look for retractions about the news but nothing of the kind occurs and you realize that what you read was factual.

The latest entry in the series of ‘this cannot possibly be true’ category of news is related to the web-based word puzzle Wordle that was recently acquired by the New York Times.

The Times recently announced it has dropped the word "fetus" from Wordle's answers in order to keep the game "distinct from the news."

The announcement is obviously related to Politico’s leaked draft opinion by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito that provides the rationale on why Roe v. Wade (1973), which legalized abortion nationwide, has to be overturned. 

If you thought that the dropping of the ‘offensive’ word was the only ridiculous part of this news, well, there was more.

The New York Times announced the dropping of the word with a statement with the following key excerpts:

“Some users may see an outdated answer that seems closely connected to a major recent news event. This is entirely unintentional and a coincidence — today’s original answer was loaded into Wordle last year.

At New York Times Games, we take our role seriously as a place to entertain and escape, and we want Wordle to remain distinct from the news.

But because of the current Wordle technology, it can be difficult to change words that have already been loaded into the game. When we discovered last week that this particular word would be featured today, we switched it for as many solvers as possible.”

“We want to emphasize that this is a very unusual circumstance. When we acquired Wordle in January, it had been built for a relatively small group of users. We’re now busy revamping Wordle’s technology so that everyone always receives the same word. We are committed to ensuring that tens of millions of people have a gratifying and consistent experience, every day.”

Thank you for your patience while we work on making improvements to Wordle. We wouldn’t be here without our amazing community of solvers.”

The NYT didn't even mention ‘the word’ that was removed. Many readers were left scratching their heads, NBC confirmed with the NYT that the word was ‘fetus.’

The fact that someone within the NYT felt the need to censor a Wordle game is laughable, and the fact that superiors at the NYT concurred with the suggestion is farcical. But it is most outrageous that the NYT felt the need to put out a wishy-washy statement devoid of the word they were censoring.

Matters have clearly devolved into insanity.

So why should we worry about a silly word game? Perhaps the NYT thought some among their readers would be offended and thus removed it.

Do we not have bigger fish to fry?

What we must understand is that silly contemporary trends among liberals provide an insight into the future. A few years ago, the idea that a high school teacher could be fired for not using a student's preferred gender pronouns, would seem absurd. But today it is fact.

The word 'fetus' is not an offensive word. It merely just means an unborn offspring of a mammal. It is a medical term. 

But the climate of intolerance has reached such peaks that a powerful newspaper feels the need to self-censor merely to appease and avoid offending their base.

The NYT has developed a base of 9.1 million paid subscriptions by conforming to groupthink. With every passing day, they go deeper and deeper into the echo chamber. Usually, the NYT leads and the subscribers follow. If however, the NYT moves even infinitesimally to the right, the base rebels resulting in the paper capitulating.

Back in 2019, the NYT carried, as it always did, an unfairly critical article on President Trump, with the headline “Trump Urges Unity Versus Racism.” The headline caused a firestorm among the NYT's subscriber base because the headline accurately stated that Trump was doing the right thing. These subscribers don't care for facts, they just want their hate confirmed and preferably amplified.

Within hours, NYT capitulated and issued a new headline: “Assailing Hate But Not Guns” but even that wasn't enough, so the headline was amended again to “Trump Condemns White Supremacy but Stops Short of Major Gun Controls.

The NYT censorship of Wordle was probably a business decision. Their actions also gave Wordle, which was gradually slipping from the public memory, a new lease on life.

But the paper still has considerable clout over the powers that be. Many in Washington probably form opinions based on op-ed pieces in the NYT.

This is exactly what Orwell depicted in his celebrated dystopian novel 1984. In the totalitarian state of Oceania, Newspeak was a language championed by the followers of the regime. Newspeak was characterized by the elimination or alteration of certain words, the substitution of one word for another, the interchangeability of parts of speech, and the creation of words for political purposes. 

The reason we must take the NYT's censorship of Wordle seriously is that words are building blocks to express ideas. If certain words associated with practices that liberals deem problematic are forbidden from common parlance, then those words are forbidden. Today, the forbidden word is 'fetus'; tomorrow, it could be some other word. In time, the vocabulary to express new ideas ceases to exist. An idea that could have benefited civilization remains unexpressed.

History has taught us that all great scientific inventions and discoveries that improve our standards of living exist because scientists, inventors, and explorers feel empowered to think differently and most importantly felt free to express themselves without restraint. 

First, they go after Wordle, next they go after public utterances. Finally, someone in Washington may want to legalize these restrictions. They may even think of monitoring private conversations to ensure that the 'wrong' words are not uttered.

Soon old news items and books will have to be flagged and altered, and so will movies and other works of art. This is already happening, a disclaimer was added before the classic Gone with the Wind, and a novel by Mark Twain was censored.

The fact remains that literature represents the values of the time in which it was set, making changes compromises the creator's vision and diminishes the literary merit. It is also wrong to judge literary works or people from the past by contemporary standards.

If books can be altered by policing words, governments will step in and add restrictions that make criticism of their policies difficult. The cycle will continue until we are left with blank pages, a blank screen, and finally a mind devoid of thoughts.

The power to fight back against this tyranny lies with all of us.

We must act before it is too late. 

Image: Josh Wardle (website/game), Berrely (vectorizing) - Screenshot of // public domain

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