Occasionally, expressing a perspective that reminds someone of a controversial topic is enough to generate silencing tactics from government and community members. In some cases, all that is needed to cause a kind of pseudo-offense is a single word.
Offendonyms are words or names which could generate vicarious offense as a result of sounding like words that are offensive to some people. Offendonyms are, of course, nothing other than homonyms or heteronyms with the special characteristic of having generated offense to someone, somewhere. While offendonyms are common tools of wit and comedy, they may also be unintentional juxtapositions of completely separate and unrelated ideas.
An aversion to offendonyms is not exclusively found in academia, politics and public relations, all areas where discordant moments in communication are often avoided, it is also sometimes extended to public policy areas of the average citizen. Consider the National Post article for different offendonyms and where a discordant public relations message may be very different than personal expression.
In Canada, there have been several cases of revoked or banned personalized vehicle license plates due to their aural similarity to controversial subjects – the licence plates are offendonyms.
In these cases, silencing of personal expression is achieved through a combination of community complaints and government regulation. Ironically, in several cases, the personalized licence plates deemed offensive had little or nothing to do with the controversial subjects that the offended reactions indicate or relate to.
Are you aware of offendonyms in your community? Have you been silenced due to a an offendonym? Let us know via our contact page!
Nova Scotia: GRABHER
Lorne Grabher was prevented from displaying his family name on the premise that “it can misinterpret it as a socially unacceptable slogan.”
Daniel D’Aloisios was prevented from displaying a personalized memorial connection to his father and their shared love of hockey….
A Ministry of Government and Consumer Services spokesperson confirmed it takes just one complaint to launch a review of a vanity plate. (Global News)
Nick Troller was advised by provincial regulators that “it has been brought to the attention of this office that the personalized plate ASIMIL8 is considered offensive”; this was in connection to his Star Trek inspired licence plate.
Canada: From ANRCHY to ZYG0TE
In the various media coverage of disallowed licence plates across Canada, it is not clear whether any would qualify as offendonyms, it seems likely. For example, the plate 5INGH was, apparently, disallowed on ethnic grounds in Alberta. Would not the plate 5MITH be equally “ethnic”? Would 5ING or SING be potentially ethnic?
United States of America: Celebrating Self-Expression?
In this ArgusLeader article, self-expression via personalized vehicle license plates is celebrated but contains a notable offendonym reference:
They tell you never to discuss politics or religion in polite company. But we all know the roads aren’t polite. OBAMA, 4OBAMA and NOBAMA once adorned cars in the state, although they appear to have fallen out of use. In their place the state now has TRUMP, TRUMP45 and MAGA. In the way of even higher powers, we’ve got GOD, SHIVA, GANESHA, JESUS, ZEUS, YAHWEH, ATHENA and YAALLAH. Ancient Egyptian goddess ISIS also made an appearance on a plate at one point. That plate is now, understandably, not in use.
Graphic on this page generated using ACME Licence Maker.