Profanity in the news media

Nobody wants little children to swear? Pfft. My dad thought it was hilarious when I cursed as a kid. Unfortunately, it encouraged me because I liked making him laugh. Now, I have a pretty salty vocabulary.

I don’t really mind. But it is surprisingly difficult to speak without swearing at all. I can do it of course, but it takes an effort.

I noticed Barr’s comment not being censored (mostly on MSNBC, but, cable, whatever), and I thought it was refreshing.

Barr himself? Disgusting self-aggrandizing toad.

I don’t think this represents a “coarsening of the culture.”

When they were making the western TV show Deadwood, they decided to update the profanity, because what was considered “profane” at the time sounded hilariously quaint to modern audiences. At the time, the “really bad” swears weren’t sexual or excretory, they were blasphemous. Societies ideas about what was constituted unacceptable language changed. And I think it’s changing again - we’re moving away from being concerned about sexual and excretory swears, and towards viewing terms that are derogatory towards specific groups as unacceptable. “Motherfucker” isn’t a big deal, but “gay” or “retard” doesn’t fly any more.

Which, oddly, means that “cocksucker”'s status remains constant.

During the Watergate era, newsrooms agonized over remarks like John Dean’s comment, “screw our political enemies.” Fred Harris, a minor candidate for President in 1976, made a campaign radio commercial with the phrase “No more bullshit.” Radio stations were compelled to broadcast it because Federal law said candidate commercials could not be censored. During the same time period, Elton John’s The Bitch is Back went to #4 on the pop charts charts and Johnny Paycheck’s Take This Job and Shove It hit #1 on the country charts.

I really thought any squeamishness broadcasters had would have been knocked out by the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal in the 90s, and Trump’s general Trumpiness in 2016.

Jimmy Buffet’s “Why Don’t We Get Drunk (and Screw)” came out in 1973. It was almost always played at Buffet’s concerts until 2007, when he realized that there were a lot of children going to concerts with their parents.

Yet Stephen Colbert’s show still censored bullshit. You can say it’s not a news show but to lots of people it’s their only source of news.

In 1980 it was a big deal when Jimmy Carter said of Ted Kennedy “I’d whip his ass .” I recall a similar discussion on whether to censor the word; it seems like half of the reports bleeped it and others reported it as is since the president said it.

NPR reported on this yesterday (maybe the day before) and the anchor specifically pointed out this was not a word you normally hear on NPR but they were allowing it unbeeped because it was said by a public figure as part of an official statement and it’s news.

I don’t think the news media is normalizing it. I think:

  1. The standard for what language is permissible in public has loosened gradually over maybe the last hundred years. I hear words in public places you wouldn’t have heard 50 years ago. I’ve heard high school kids talk in a way that 50 years ago would have been shocking to hear in “mixed company.”
  2. The standard for language in films has loosened over the last hundred years. In 1939 the word “damn” in a movie was scandalous.
  3. The advent of cable TV channels with no restrictions on what language they can use normalizes this usage. (Broadcast media still can’t do this.) When people hear “fuck” on TV they assume everybody is saying “fuck” all the time so they say “fuck” all the time.

In 1967, it was still unheard of to hear “hell” used as a profanity on TV. Star Trek broke through this taboo in April 1967, when Cap’n Kirk ends an episode with “Let’s get the hell out of here”.“Let’s_get_the_hell_out_of_here”,_Nazis,_and_other_influences

In his history of English The Mother Tongue: English And How It Got That Way, Bill Bryson wrote about a captain of the England football team in the 1980s, who called a referee “a lying, cheating cunt”, and the consternation it caused in the sports press. I think he said one, but only one, newspaper quoted the player in full without using asterisks.

I couldn’t find a cite, but Googling “England football player referee fucking” led to some really unfortunate search results; I dread to think what ads I’m going to get for the next few days…

Is that the way it was actually written? “fk” and “ct”?

Those words can not appear in print… including in reference works !?! Wacky.

One of the weird things about being in a different country is to hear how much “shit” and “fuck” are used without the same restrictions in the U.S. This includes hearing such words from elementary school-aged children, and the parents don’t even blink.

Words such as “shitstorm” are even used by the newsmedia, both written and broadcast as a matter-of-fact.

My grandmothers never used swear words - they considered it improper, but my grandfathers did, but only occasionally. My mother swears when needed (injuries, stuck jar lids, driving) and my father moreso. Swearing used to be more restricted to men, and it’s losing this weird restriction.

Agree. Everyone does it (okay, some people do practice celebacy), so why should anybody be ashamed of their bodily functions?

It seems that so many people don’t talk about shit and and related medical issues, and I consider this to be a problem. Not everyone wants to talk about such issues, but it should be acceptable to talk about them (when appropriate - maybe not during high tea).

The same applies here in Germany. Not long ago, at the end of her term, ex-chancellor Angela Merkel used the word “shit-storm” in an interview or a speech (can’t quite remember which, but it was during an official event) and nobody in Germany batted an eye. But some English speaking journalists noticed it and were perplexed that she used such a “dirty” word. It’s not in German, it’s the regular German term for this internet phenomenon, an English lean word like so many in the realm of computers/internet.

ETA: I found an article about the incident.

ETA2: ah sorry, I just see that the above link is paywalled. I’ve only found another article in German, from Die Welt:

“Shitstorm: American and English people are astonished about Merkel’s obscenity”

Too late to edit: found a better, English link on CNN:

And I just saw that I used the term “lean word” when I meant “loan word” in the above post. Sorry, I always get that wrong.

Over here, I notice a difference between print (or at least my newspaper - the Guardian - will print the f and c words: but I’m of the more squeamish older generation) and broadcast news (drama is more true to life in that respect, at least after the 9pm watershed).

On the other hand, milder expletives and double entendre plays on them can appear. Way back in the 90s, when the Labour Party economic spokesnman Gordon Brown was trying to make its economic policy plans look fiscally cautious and business-friendly, a Tory minister poked fun at Ed Balls, one of the Labour backroom driving forces behind it, by saying of some proposal “That wasn’t Brown’s, it was Balls”, and that was broadcast. Much more recently, David Cameron caused amusement over some Twitter spat by saying “Too many tweets make a twat” (obviously not realising it wasn’t just another word for idiot, though it’s more in that area than the c word).

And there was the occasion when the BBC’s classical radio station broadcast something by a certain German baroque composer, and the presenter said “This may not be what you expect to hear said on Radio 3, but I can legitimately tell you that that was a piece of Scheidt”.

[quote=“I_Love_Me_Vol.I, post:30, topic:966225”]
Is that the way it was actually written? “fk” and “ct”?

No it was f**k and c**t, I forgot you have to escape asterisks in Markdown.

I don’t clutch my pearls when I hear or read profane language, but I don’t like how its usage has become so pervasive today in general society. I don’t like it, not because I find it offensive but because it’s coarse and cheap. We as a civilized society should strive to be better than that. If chimps could talk I imagine they would curse a lot. We’re a bit more evolved—some of us anyway.

Not that curse words don’t have their place. Stand-up comedy (with a disclaimer) is a perfectly fine venue to punctuate jokes with a well-place curse or three. However, comics who curse just for shock-value-laughs are just phoning it in and are nothing but hacks. It’s the difference between George Carlin (a fine language cognoscenti) and your drunk, loudmouth co-worker who grabs the mike at amateur comic night at a dive bar.

Profanity is also the most appropriate form of communication to express your feelings properly when you stub your toe.

Oh, and it’s mandatory to curse when attempting to coerce your kids to do their chores.

Other than that, it’s time to clean up our act, humans.

That is the value a certain society placed on these words. If we are no longer that society and we no longer feel that way about those words, who are you to say we are wrong?

I’m Tibby, dammit!

It’s good for a language to have a number of words in reserve for when shock and awe is required. Profanity used to fit the bill. If profanity becomes the ordinary, we’re back to square one.

I always think it’s hilariously juvenile that even in pharmaceutical ads that use some scientific terms the act of elimination (defecation or urination) is only referred to by euphamism suited for a toddler: “Go”. As in:

“Do you frequently have an unexpected need to ‘go’? Ask your doctor about Fuckitall!”

No wonder this country can’t deal with gun proliferation and other very serious issues. We are too messed up to even be able to talk as adults.

On January 7, 2021, Joe Scarborough, host of Morning Joe on MSNBC commented on the terrorist attack at the capital the day before and the lack of police response he stated “Trump supporters come in and you open the fucking door for them!”. I have his whole rant recorded.