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THE WORD

How many times must a man look (it) up?

So many language rumors, so little time to check them out.

Some are easy, of course, like the Wikipedia entry claiming that the word blackboard ‘‘is now perceived by some as being ’politically incorrect’ in the United Kingdom.’’ ‘‘Citation needed,’’ a parenthesis cautioned. Indeed: a Nexis search of UK publications found some 30 blackboards in a week, against just three chalkboards.

Then there was the news, relayed last year by a New York friend, that real estate brokers were banning ‘‘walk-in closet’’ and ‘‘ocean view’’ in ads, so as not to offend those who can’t walk or can’t see. Well, the ads still say ‘‘ocean view,’’ but the rumor is lurking on the Web, looking for chances to replicate.

As for the scandalous tale of the ‘‘transfer tubes’’—as the Pentagon was supposed to have renamed body bags—Ben Zimmer squelched that one in a Slate magazine piece last April, explaining that it all started with a misunderstanding. (The actual term is ‘‘human remains pouches,’’ or HRPs, which may not strike you as an improvement.)

On the other hand, some horror stories pan out. The New York education department really did bowdlerize the texts they used on the statewide Regents exams—without the authors’ permission—until a student’s mother blew the whistle on them in 2002. Their editing, The New York Times reported, included removing references to Judaism in a text from Isaac Bashevis Singer, changing ‘‘gringo lady’’ into ‘‘American lady’’ in a quote from Ernesto Galarza’s ‘‘Barrio Boy,’’ and changing ‘‘fat’’ to ‘‘heavy.’’

In the same vein, as Diane Ravitch documented in her 2003 book ‘‘The Language Police,’’ textbook and test publishers, in pursuit of the widest markets, have added hundreds of possibly touchy words to their index expurgatorius, including soda (a regionalism, like pop), elderly, and straw man.

And David Howard, an aide to Washington, D.C. mayor Anthony Williams, really was fired in 1999 for using the word niggardly in a discussion with two other city employees. (He was rehired after the entire English-speaking world pointed out that the word has no connection to the racial slur.)

So I didn’t know what to believe when I read, a few weeks ago, that a college textbook had paraphrased Bob Dylan’s lyrics to read ‘‘How many roads must an individual walk down before you can call them an adult.’’ OK, it’s no more absurd than banning ‘‘fat,’’ but the source—a 2004 column by Margaret Wente in the Toronto Globe and Mail—didn’t name the textbook; it just credited Ravitch.

And Ravitch had indeed used the Dylan ‘‘quote’’—not in ‘‘The Language Police’’ but in a Wall Street Journal story about responses to the book. She had asked for more examples of language policing, she wrote, and in they poured: ‘‘A college professor informed me that a new textbook in human development includes the following statement: ’As a folksinger once sang, how many roads must an individual walk down before you can call them an adult.’ The professor was stupefied that someone had made the line gender-neutral and ungrammatical.’’

Ravitch didn’t name a source either, but the ‘‘stupefied’’ professor, who had used that very word, turned up in a Google search; he was Bernard Chapin, a Chicago writer who had included the Dylan item in his Web review of Ravitch’s book. He had the footnote I was looking for: The quote came from ‘‘Adolescence,’’ by John W. Santrock, 8th edition, 2001.

But he hadn’t, in fact, commented on its grammar, for a good reason; he had quoted from memory, and not quite accurately. The sentence in the book, he e-mailed, actually read, ‘‘As singer Bob Dylan asked, how many roads do individuals have to go down before they are called adults?’’ A copy from my local library confirmed this version: cheesy, but not ungrammatical.

Whose idea was it? I e-mailed Santrock, a professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, to ask, and ventured that paraphrasing Dylan, whatever the motive, was maybe a bit uncool.

‘‘I couldn’t agree more with you,’’ he replied. The alteration was an editor’s work, he said—an ‘‘inappropriate’’ decision that he used to point out to his own students. The citation is gone from the latest edition of ‘‘Adolescence,’’ he said, though Dylan’s line, in all its manly glory, appears in another of his psychology textbooks.

So it’s a happy ending, after all; the language police beaten back, Dylan’s lyrics restored. Is everybody satisfied now—or was it more fun to complain?

E-mail freeman@globe.com. For four weeks’ worth of The Word, visit boston.com/news/globe/ideas/freeman.

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