Slang picture book banned

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Cover of the book Sat thu dau mung mu (Killer with a soft head). Photo courtesy of Thanh Phong

Sat thu dau mung mu (Killer with a soft head), a comedic picture book depicting local youth slang that has caused a stir around the country, has been withdrawn from bookstores due to its racy content and possibly offensive language.

The picture book, jointly published by Nha Nam and Fine Arts Publishing houses, is collection of around 120 witty illustrations of rhyming urban street slang.

Examples include: Chan nhu con gian (Tasteless like cockroaches), Cai kho lo cai ngu (Difficulty sparks stupidity), Dau kho nhu con ho (Writhe like a tiger) or Thu vui tao nha Giat ta cho con (Stunning leisure Washing diapers).

The book's author Thanh Phong, who won the Special Jury Prize at the 2011 Asian Youth Animation& Comics Contest, wrote on his blog (phong210.wordpress.com) that although the book might appear to be sheer entertainment, he still felt that he was publishing a kind of journal of modern-day youth culture that could be remembered in the future.

The book has so far been loved and hated. Some critics have called it fantastic while others say Phong has debauched the Vietnamese language by including slang adapted from original folk idioms and proverbs. They say his book is a cheap reflection of the "uncultured" lifestyle of local youths.

On October 21, the Ministry of Information and Communications' Publishing Department asked the Fine Arts Publishing House to revaluate whether or not the content of the book is appropriate and educational. The publishing house on October 24 issued a recall of the book.

The department is also checking to ensure that both publishers have been properly licensed. Sale of the book will be prohibited during the checks.

Dang Thi Bich Ngan, vice director of the Fine Arts Publishing House, has blamed the problems on Nha Nam for changing the book's title and publishing it before consulting with Fine Arts. 

"On July 14, my publisher gave Nha Nam approval to release the book under the title Thanh ngu sanh dieu (Astute slang). But the publisher changed it to the current name and published it [without consultation]," Ngan told The Thao Van Hoa.

She said this was also why the book was not submitted to the Publishing Department before its release as regulated by law.

However, Ngan said the book's content was not socially degenerate as the slang and pictures were just for fun.

More than five thousand copies of the book have been sold since it was released in mid-October. 

Many readers consider the ban meaningless.

Before Sat thu dau mung mu, singer Le Kieu Nhu's erotic novel about a girl's marriage to an impotent man was also banned, a move that increased demand for the book more than ever.

"Phong's book is another testimony that shows how out-of-date and dogmatic our administration is," commented online reader Ha Nguyen on the Tuoi Tre website. "How could these sayings and easy-to-forget sentences ruin the native language? The funny pictures really entertain me. They cannot just sit there and decide for sure that the book have a negative impact on our lives. Many people have florid words but corrupt morals and behavior."

Public relations executive Nguyen Le said that youth slang is based on the characteristics of each generation. She said that following and understanding slang is a good way to keep up with and understand youth culture.

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