“The Forbidden Word” – by Edward D. Hoch, 1972

“The Forbidden Word” – by Edward D. Hoch, 1972


Greg is a travelling salesman who visits Los Angeles in the late 1980s. To his surprise, the population has plummeted since his last visit; his company rep explains that people are so afraid, they’ve been fleeing the state in bulk. With barely half as many people as before the panic, the economy is in the toilet, and so new laws have been passed to keep people from fleeing California.

Greg then goes to lunch with the company rep’s secretary, Lola. She explains that life is different now that there’s so much panic. “Because of the earthquakes, you mean?”, Greg asks, and she winces: he is promptly arrested for saying “earthquake” in California in public.

Lola pays his bail, and then skips town with him; she wants to get as far away from California as possible, so they move to New York City together. Dense, crowded, overpopulated New York City. They sit down in a restaurant, and talk about their adventure. “I could learn to love you!” “I already love you!”

And then they’re both arrested, because New York City is overpopulated and it is thus illegal to say the word “love”.


This is a profoundly stupid story.

Leaving aside the fact that humans can make more humans without actually being in love, or without using the word ‘love’, and assuming arguendo that this law would not be immediately overturned as unconstitutional, there’s the fact that *nobody warns Greg about ‘earthquake’ being illegal*.

If an entire state suddenly decided to ban the public use of a common everyday word which hitherto had been present in everyone’s vocabulary, this would be newsworthy. Even in 1972, the mass media had access to wire services and radio broadcasts and long-distance phone calls. There should have been tons of coverage. There should have been guidebooks – “going to California? Don’t say ‘earthquake’!” And even if Greg had somehow missed out on all these warnings, he had a meeting in his company rep’s office. Why didn’t the rep warn him then?

Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association