It is “arguably the most powerful negative word in the American English language,” the author Inga Muscio writes. Her book happens to be sitting on my desk, but I’ve been told we cannot print its title. . It is a word, she continues, that “is the ultimate one-syllable covert verbal weapon.” The kind that any “streetwise 6-year-old” or “passing motorist” can use against a woman.
This week, the woman who was called the c-word happened to be Ivanka Trump. Samantha Bee, the late-night talk show host and satirist, displayed a photo Ms. Trump had posted on social media in which she is nuzzling her son. Contrasting that motherly image with the news of the moment, the Trump administration’s immigration policy of separating children from parents, Ms. Bee called Ms. Trump a “feckless” version of that word.
We invited a group of New York Times journalists who happen to possess the anatomy in question to pick apart the controversy over the remark, and discuss why the word itself is so radioactive. They are Fahima Haque, social media strategy editor; Amanda Hess, culture critic-at-large; Bari Weiss, opinion writer; and Bonnie Wertheim, Styles staff editor; I am the moderator, Jessica Bennett, gender editor. Here are edited excerpts from the conversation:
Let’s just acknowledge that we’re going to have an entire conversation about a word we’ve been told we cannot print. What is it about this word that so many people — including our bosses — consider unspeakable?
Bonnie Wertheim I try not to use the word, and have at times taken the “See you next Tuesday” approach of Charlotte of “Sex and the City” (and I am definitely not a Charlotte). There’s something about the sound of it that is sonically shocking — the juxtaposition of two harsh plosives in a string of so few letters. But I don’t see the big deal with spelling it out once in print.