VOL. 129 | NO. 217 | Thursday, November 6, 2014
By Vic Fleming
“Unfortunately, the quip in this puzzle didn’t tickle [the editor] quite enough to say yes. Partially, this may have been because he didn’t think that building a puzzle around ‘trigger warning’ was something solvers would love.” Thus read a note from the crossword puzzle guru’s intern a few months ago.
As some of my loyal solvers know, a puzzle rejected from on high is nonetheless apt to find its way into this venue. Truth is, crosswords rejected by the mainstream puzzle publishers were the genesis of the I Swear Crossword franchise. Or should I refer to it as a movement?
Anyhow, the point is that the phrase ‘trigger warning’ has been creeping into usage for the past several years. Recently, it reached the apex of usage recognition when it was the featured item of satire in The New Yorker’s “Shouts and Murmurs” column, authored in late August by Paul Rudnick.
Rudnick’s piece begins, “Politically sensitive organizations and individuals have begun to advocate for the addition of ‘trigger warnings’ to books and movies that contain scenes of bullying, prejudice, or sexual violence.” That should be enough to give you a working definition of the term. He then goes on to tell of “a group called SKITTISH, the Society of Kindhearted Individuals Terrified of Trauma, Icky Stuff, and Heartache” and its “manifesto calling for even more extreme measures.” Great stuff!
Well before Rudnick’s piece, though, I’d decided to use ‘trigger warning’ in a crossword. A few weeks earlier, the same magazine had run an article titled “Trigger Warnings and the Novelist’s Mind,” by Jay Caspian King. King’s piece, which was not satirical, began with a reminiscence of a grad school prof issuing a warning as he was giving a lecture on “Lolita.” The prof had said something like, “Keep in mind when reading this book that it is the account of the systematic brutalization of a young woman.”
Having read “Lolita” in both high school and college, King had kept it at hand for many a year, using it guiltlessly to unclog writer’s block from time to time, and admiring it for its magnificent prose. He was quite taken aback by the harsh caveat, which he felt was needless.
Transitioning into his main points, the author wrote, “I thought of that professor and his unwelcome intrusion when I read a page-one story in last week’s Times about how several colleges across the country have considered placing ‘trigger warnings’ in front of works of art and literature that may cause a student to relive a traumatic experience.”
Anyhow, I did not respond to my crossword editor friend by telling him that trigger warnings were quite clearly the topic du jour in all the right journalistic places. And that his venue was passing on the opportunity to get into the avant-garde on this timely topic. That would have seemed too much like argument. And, being as how I’m a judge and all, argument is something I hear enough of in a day’s time without engaging in it with puzzle editors.
So … take a shot at today’s I Swear Crossword, but be forewarned – uh, never mind.
Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at email@example.com.