More NYT avoidance

Earlier today it was kick-ass avoidance in the NYT. Now Ann Burlingham has pointed me back to a story from last month with a puzzling bit of avoidance in it. The background is the tale of philosopher Colin McGinn and the events that led to his leaving his academic position. Jennifer Schuessler in the NYT on August 3rd, in “A Star Philosopher Falls, and a Debate Over Sexism Is Set Off”:

While the status of women in the sciences has received broad national attention, debate about sexism in philosophy has remained mostly within the confines of academia. But the revelation this summer that Colin McGinn, a star philosopher at the University of Miami, had agreed to leave his tenured post after allegations of sexual harassment brought by a graduate student, has put an unusually famous name to the problem, exposing the field to what some see as a healthy dose of sunlight.

… Meanwhile, some of Mr. McGinn’s posts —  including one meditating on the difference between “suggesting” an action and “entertaining” it, and another (since removed) riffing on alternate meanings of a crude term for masturbation — have struck even some of Mr. McGinn’s onetime supporters as less philosophical than self-incriminating.

It’s “a crude term for masturbation” — without an indication of what term he used. We have to speculate.

If McGinn had merely said that he masturbated while thinking about the student — he apparently did that — that would have been offensive, but the paper could have reported the situation without commenting on his word choice; the verb masturbate would have served. Instead, he embarked on a semantic analysis of a crude slang expression. The relevant blog posting has been removed, so the direct evidence has disappeared.

My guess is jerking off, but jacking off is an alternative, and so is a reference to a handjob. Since I have an interest in the analysis of sexual vocabulary, it would have been good to see what McGinn actually said (though I might just have been annoyed by it, as quite a few readers seem to have been).

3 Responses to “More NYT avoidance”

  1. Chris Waigl Says:

    I believe the term was “handjob”. McGinn appears to have taken down his most hair-raising blog posts, but it was discussed quite a bit in a Crooked Timber comment thread here: (including some Americans being unfamiliar with “handjob” referring to masturbation, as opposed to a sexual act between two people, which in BrE it definitely can).

    I read the blog post at the time. It drew a parallel between some of the allegations against McGinn to a hypothetical situation wherein person A overhears person B jocularly using the word “handjob” to person C while actually referring to a manicure, and person A feeling sexually harrassed because of this simple misunderstanding. Yeah, right, that’s what happend, uh-huh.

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