I had thought that the belief that certain words contained inherent magical abilities -- and that the mere utterances of such words caused dark and mystical things to happen -- had pretty much faded into history. At least in the U.S.
But, apparently jinxes are alive and well.
Arnold Zwicky points this out at Language Log ("On the offensive language beat: use vs. mention, avoidance"): "Believing that some words are so intrinsically offensive that they should never be uttered, even to describe their offensiveness or to report on offensive uses, is believing in verbal magic."
He's talking about faggot, and specifcally about the flap that arose when actor Isaiah Washington denied insulting a co-worker by using the actual word faggot. The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation thinks Washington should not have ever uttered the word, even to deny it, which smacks of belief in magical properties that are tied specifically to the word spoken and not the intent.
This is nonsense, and I thank Mr. Zwicky for addressing the matter.