Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

27 Oct 2014, 9:00 a.m.

Epithets for Basilisks

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2014 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

I saw a theatrical showing of an Indian movie the other day. I noticed that the filmmakers had censored a few words and phrases. Most confusingly, when one character (an Indian lawyer in 2012) hyperbolically talked about criminals going free, he referred to some person, someone obviously guilty. But the audio blanked out when he said the person's name, and the subtitles also elided the name as "K***".

I am so underinformed on major Indian criminals that my first thought was "Karna". But I talked with an Indian relative who hypothesized: they're referring to in-and-out-of-prison celebrity Sanjay Dutt -- who was, in 2012, not imprisoned -- by his nickname "Khalnayak" (the eponymous villain in his career-making film), and they're blanking out all but that initial consonant so that they can refer to him in a plausibly deniable way.

I wonder whether I will ever lose my fascination with the encodings we develop to avoid the Eye of Sauron, to refer to Voldemort without saying his name. Right now I'm seeing creativity flourish on Twitter, as people use "gg", "G________", "actually about ethics in ga-", and similar. My own contribution: "g7e".

(You do realize that, if Twitter wanted to, they could make it so no one could search for that one string on their site, or via their API, or use it in a Tweet, and the hashtag wouldn't work. Closed-source service. Platform we don't control.)