The American Heritage Dictionary
“What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.” — Salman Rushdie
Of all books, a dictionary of the English language should be the least likely to cause offense. It simply contains the vocabulary of the primary language that Americans use every day in our personal, school, and professional lives. But the American Heritage Dictionary has had one confidential and five public challenges or bans in the United States since 1976, all because of its “objectionable language.”
The roundup of challenges and bans reported to the Office for Intellectual Freedom is short but not at all sweet. Starting in 1976, the American Heritage Dictionary was removed from school libraries in Anchorage, Alaska and Cedar Lake, Indiana because of its “objectionable language.” It was removed the following year from school libraries in Eldon, Missouri for the same reason. 1982 saw the removal from Folsom, California school libraries. A decade later, the dictionary was challenged, removed from, but ultimately reinstated in the Churchill County (Nevada) school libraries.
The metaphysical implications of challenging and removing the dictionary from any library, let alone a school library, are almost too staggering to contemplate. Denying readers of all ages access to a storehouse of the English language also denies them the opportunity to explore, learn about, and understand the fundamentals of language and communication, the very tenets of the freedom to read and the freedom of expression. Condemning the American Heritage Dictionary for its “objectionable language” in effect condemns the English language itself as objectionable. If not the most insidious book to censor, it certainly ranks among them.