Some among us get irked from time to time by sundry efforts to police our morality. Quite frequently, though, someone comes up with something so bizarre that one is left at a loss for words.
Into this category must fall the list of hundreds of words released in November by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority that it thinks should no longer be relayed via SMS. The effort was, no doubt, meant to remove anything that could be construed as objectionable from the space of even private discourse. But while one does not necessarily want to discuss the human anatomy via text message, the inclusion on the list of the word ‘breast’, for example, left telecom companies scratching their heads over what to do with their breast cancer awareness campaigns. The banning of many other words and phrases was even less logical. Had the PTA had its way, no longer would someone be able to refer to having eaten mango ice cream or share that he was suffering from athlete’s foot.
Things became clearer when the list was found to contain words such as ‘Ku Klux Klan’ and ‘yellowman’, which, though problematic in the West, are more or less unknown in Pakistan. This raised the possibility that the PTA had copied and pasted a list compiled elsewhere, in some other context, without even filtering it for relevance. Fortunately, the plan was deferred after telecom companies pointed out the impracticality of blocking certain words. The PTA would do well to remember first, that it has no business trying to censor discourse in such a manner and second, that the meaning of most words can be taken only in context. If only they would redirect their energies toward findings ways to curb unsolicited SMS advertising or acting on complaints of unwanted messages instead.