“Speaking of the Balkans” (“Investigations,” August/03) describes linguist Victor Friedman’s early researches in foreign curses and obscenities, and notes, with no further explanation, that “Many are unprintable.” What exactly does this mean? Are they accompanied by elaborately choreographed dance moves that cannot be represented in print? Are they sung in a tonal system that has no recognized method for transcription? Are they in languages that have no writing system?
If the writer’s intention was to say that the terms are sexual or scatological, perhaps this could have been stated—excuse the word—explicitly. It would be a shame if a magazine presenting the research of a serious scholar to a serious audience is so timid that even the nature of this research cannot be adequately described.
Jesse Sheidlower, AB’89
Sheidlower, principal editor (North America) of the Oxford English Dictionary, edited The F Word (Random House, 1995)—Ed.