If you scanned the headline quickly, you may have misread it. This is not about taboos in dialogue, like shouting epithets or characterizing anyone left-of-center as a socialist. No, this is about the game Taboo® from Hasbro—and a flight of fancy on a rainy Friday.
In case you’re unfamiliar with Taboo, it’s a party game for four or more players. The game comes with more than 1,000 cards; each card lists a main word and five related words. One player draws a card and, in a short time, tries to get the others to guess the main word. In doing so, however, the card holder cannot use any of the words on the card.
So imagine drawing the card for house and discovering that you can’t say house, home, mortgage, door, window, or family. Or any phrases with those words in them. If you’re a lover of words, it’s a great game.
What if we ran dialogues this way?
Let’s say the dialogue is about the economy. Republicans would articulate their beliefs in detail, but they can’t say socialism, big government, tax and spend, small business, or Obamacare. Democrats would do the same, but they can’t say party of no, middle class, top 1%, fat cat, or wingnut.
Hey, this could be fun.
More to the point, this little exercise might get us away from the loaded words and simplistic catchphrases that our elected officials typically toss at one another. More often than not, these words and phrases mischaracterize the issue, the other side, or both. Even worse, they lead us into thinking that the issues are simpler than they are.
In the game, the inability to use certain words forces the card holder to dig deeper, find new words, explain in more detail. A good deal of fumbling goes on, but every now and then you hear something ingenious—a way of looking at a word you’ve never noticed before.
I wonder whether that could happen in dialogue Taboo. Perhaps, in our search for new words and explanations, we might come across nuances in the issue that we hadn’t seen before. Maybe we would become more open to a range of possible solutions that couldn’t penetrate the sound bites.