29 Down: Pornography, to some.

I realize, entirely, that the source of my impending complaint is my own fault:

Facing an empty afternoon, it seemed my best option was to do both of the daily crossword puzzles staring at me with x-ray vision from the back sections of their respective newspapers. One of the puzzles was the Monday New York Times puzzle; easy, certainly, but a respected and usually well-written puzzle. The other was the syndicated puzzle, tucked alongside the never-funny black and white single-pane comic, and a litany of other inanity.

I never like those no-name crossword puzzles. I find them of internally variable difficulty with inaccurate and/or unclever clue-answer pairs. I try to avoid them, opting for the erudite, sophisticated, snooty and elitist New York Times variation, but boredom inevitably got the better of me.

I regretted my choice immediately, but I am not one to quit a crossword in the middle. Yet so many of the clues were just not right for their answers: natural aptitude and instinct? Weather conditions and climate? Crazy and daft? They’re not wrong, per se, I just think they could have been better.

None of these bothered me as much as the four-word answer to the clue “pornography”: “smut.” Smut has such a negative connotation, and pornography is simply a thing that exists that some people have opinions about; it seemed a little harsh for the puzzle to be levying such harsh judgment on such a nominally innocent noun, when there are so many greater sins in the world.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines pornograph as: “an obscene writing or pictorial illustration.” (The OED in turn defines obscene as “Offensive to the senses, or to taste or refinement; disgusting, repulsive, filthy, foul, abominable, loathsome” and as “Offensive to modesty or decency; expressing or suggesting unchaste or lustful ideas; impure, indecent, lewd.” Yes, I have a bone to pick with the evolution of the English language: why is lust loathsome?)

Pornography is more specific, at least according to the OED: “Description of the life, manners, etc., of prostitutes and their patrons; hence, the expression or suggestion of obscene or unchaste subjects in literature or art.”

Pornography is, essentially, the written or visual depiction of unchaste-ness, in particular (apparently) the sex industry. It seems to me that whether or not one finds that offensive to one’s taste and refinement is completely up to them.

Smut, on the other hand, when used as a noun is “a black mark or stain; a smudge,” or schmutz if Yiddish one-word definitions are to be employed. It is also a plant fungus, but that is not relevant. When used as a verb, the third definition of smut is “to make obscene” — not an overwhelmingly common usage. And reference to obscenity is not found until the fifth definition of the noun form of the word, as “indecent or obscene language,” which is hardly applicable to pornography as a whole, though there is surely an argument that the vocabulary of pornography is smut. (Perhaps an accurate crossword clue should have read “Pornographic words”.)

So is, as the questionable crossword puzzle would have us believe, pornography equivalent to smut? Is the written or visual depiction of unchaste-ness a black smudge, end of story? Perhaps for some, but obviously there are millions of people who would not think “pornography” and, in a game of free association, next think “smut.”

This is the inherent weirdness of crossword puzzles: the answer always reads as a definition for the clue, and so much can be implied about society and culture by paying attention to these nuances. By using “pornography” as the clue for the answer “smut,” we see that someone is telling us to define pornography as smut. They could easily have used an innocuous phrase like “something distasteful,” or the definition, “sooty matter,” to clue the wanted answer “smut.” Instead, though, it became a judgment call, labeling the expression of lust as something to be wiped away with zealous vigor.


One thought on “29 Down: Pornography, to some.

  1. Does the French presidential election spell the end of confessionalism in Lebanon, and, indirectly, in Israel?
    Erle Stanley Gardner was just saying the other day (about 1964) that it is almost always wrong to argue from a premise. I think he meant “deductively”. He didn’t go to much college, which is why he almost, no, I will say, always says something when he writes something. A lawyer who didn’t go to college–it’s almost the definition of a citizen.
    Predicting what people will do–how? You have two choices: they will follow the party line or they will respond to the situation around them. “Following” is not the right word for party-lining. One must figure out what the party line requires in one’s personal circumstances, and thus add to it. There is always a pause in the US news when something happens as people figure out what the Israel lobby needs out of the situation.
    What are the odds that someone you pass on the sidewalk will see you as you look at them?
    You seek to distinguish values (or judgments) from facts. I think the proper distinction is between faith and facts. Perhaps that is what you mean. Faith is the story you tell yourself in deciding whether to see what your eyes show you (and other senses, mut. mut.). I think it is helpful, in weighing one’s story, to consider the imagination. Or perhaps “attention” or “wakefulness”. That which informs you. I think it is very helpful to adopt the rule that there is no knowledge without an image. So your fact is either your knowingly looking at the thing your senses show you or your consulting some memory-expectation which justifies your overlooking that evidence. A racist has a rule that makes the human before her not a human in some cases. This rule itself has an image, an idea, which justifies it to the holder.
    The quality of one’s faith-story is shown by the quality of the factual encounters it allows. A person with a rich faith has a well-constructed story, on the one hand, and seems to notice a lot of what goes on around her, on the other.
    Games are a way of checking how much one is paying attention.
    The thing you notice on the sidewalk is that people must choose to pay attention. Is there anybody you might encounter on the sidewalk whom you could not will to look back at you, whose persona you could not pierce with a loving glance–that is, a glance that sees the other person per se?

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