Bleep censor

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A bleep censor is the replacement of offensive language or classified information with a beep sound (usually a 1000 Hz sine wave), used in television and radio.


Censor boxes, such as the one above, may be used along with the bleeps to prevent the audience from lip reading the swearer's words. Above, this animation says "Oh-", followed by the censor.

Bleeping has been used for many years as a means of censoring TV and radio programs to remove content not deemed suitable for "family", "daytime", "broadcasting", or "international" viewing, as well as sensitive classified information for security.[1] The bleep censor is a software module, manually operated by a broadcast technician.[2] A bleep is sometimes accompanied by a digital blur pixelization or box over the speaker's mouth in cases where the removed speech may still be easily understood or not understood by lip reading.[3]

In subtitles, bleeped words are usually represented by "[bleep]". Sometimes the phrases "[expletive]", "[beep]", "[censored]", and "[explicit]" are used, while it is also common (though less so) to see hyphens (e.g. abbreviations of the word "fuck" like f—k f---), a series of X's, or asterisks and other non-letter symbols (e.g. ****, f***, f**k, f*ck, f#@k or f#@%), remaining faithful to the audio track. The characters used to denote censorship in text are called grawlixes.[4] Where open captions are used (generally in instances where the speaker is not easily understood) a blank is used where the word is bleeped. Occasionally, bleeping is not reflected in the captions, allowing the unedited dialogue to be seen.[citation needed] Sometimes, a "black bar" can be seen for a closed caption bleep.[5][better source needed]

Bleeping is mostly used in unscripted programs such as documentaries, radio features, and panel games, since scripted productions are designed to suit the time of their broadcast. For example, on the Discovery Channel, bleeping is extremely common. In the case of scripted comedies, most bleeping may be used for humorous purposes, and other sound effects may be substituted for the bleep tone for comical effect; examples of this include a slide whistle, a baby cooing, dolphin noises, or the "boing" of a spring. Some scripted comedies purposely incorporate bleeping for comedic purposes; for example, profanity in the American sitcom Reno 911! is always bleeped as the show is presented in a mockumentary style, while a recurring joke used in sketches by Australian comedy group Aunty Donna features the bleep appearing slightly too late, resulting in the original profanity being clearly heard before it is immediately followed by a bleep that either serves no purpose or interrupts what the speaker was saying after they had already used profanity.

Other uses of bleeping may include reality television, infomercials, game shows, and daytime/late night talk shows, where the bleep conceals personally identifying information such as ages, surnames, addresses/hometowns, phone numbers, and attempts to advertise a personal business without advanced or appropriate notice, in order to maintain the subject's privacy (as seen for subjects arrested in episodes of Traffic Cops or COPS).[6][better source needed]

When films are edited for daytime/nighttime TV, broadcasters may prefer not to bleep swearing, but cut out the segment containing it, replace the speech with different words, or cover it with silence or a sound effect.[citation needed]

Bleeping is commonly used in English-language and Japanese-language broadcasting, but is sometimes/rarely used in some other languages (such as Arabic, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, Icelandic, Filipino, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Italian, Korean, Norwegian, Hebrew, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish, Polish, Russian, Thai and Turkish), displaying the varying attitudes between countries; some are more liberal towards swearing, less inclined to use strong profanities in front of a camera in the first place, or unwilling to censor. In the Philippines and Ecuador, undubbed movies on television have profanity muted instead of bleeped.

On live TV shows, broadcasters prefer to mute the sound to censor profanity rather than bleep over it.[7] This was already the case in March 2022, when American television broadcasters muted the sound during a live broadcast of the Oscars after Will Smith slapped Chris Rock and shouted "Keep my wife's name out your fucking mouth!".[8] Nevertheless, the complete verbal exchange between Smith and Rock was broadcast uncensored in other countries like Japan, Australia, and Argentina.[9]

Bleeping frequently occurs in videos on the Internet. YouTube videos often have profanity bleeped or muted out as YouTube policy specifies that videos including profanities may be “demonetized” or stripped of ads.[10]


Advertising in the United Kingdom[edit]

Under the Ofcom guidelines, television and radio commercials are not allowed to use bleeps to obscure swearing under BACC/CAP guidelines. However, this does not apply to program trailers or cinema advertisements and "fuck" is bleeped out of two cinema advertisements for Johnny Vaughan's Capital FM show and the cinema advertisement for the Family Guy season 5 DVD.[citation needed] An advert for esure insurance released in October 2007 uses the censor bleep, as well as a black star placed over the speaker's mouth, to conceal the name of a competitor company the speaker said she used to use.[citation needed] The Comedy Central advert for South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut had a version of "Kyle's Mom's a Bitch" where vulgarities were bleeped out, though the movie itself did not have censorship, and was given a 15 rating, despite a high amount of foul language.[citation needed]

A Barnardo's ad, released in summer 2007, has two versions: one where a boy can be heard saying "fuck off" four times which is restricted to "18" rated cinema screenings, and one where a censor bleep sound obscures the profanity which is still restricted to "15" and "18" rated films.[11] Neither is permitted on UK television.

Trailers for programs containing swearing are usually bleeped until well after the watershed, and it is very rare for any trailer to use the most severe swear words uncensored.[citation needed]

United States[edit]

In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission has the rights to regulate indecent broadcasts. However, the FCC does not actively monitor television broadcasts for indecency violations, nor does it keep a record of television broadcasts. Reports must be documented exclusively by the public and submitted in written form, whether by traditional letter or e-mail.

The FCC is allowed to enforce indecency laws during 6 a.m. – 10 p.m. local time.[12] In addition, for network broadcasts, offensive material seen during watershed in one time zone may be subject to fines and prosecution for stations in earlier time zones: for instance, a program with offensive content broadcast at 10 p.m. Eastern Time/Mountain resulted in many stations being fined because of this detail.[citation needed] It falls out of watershed at 9 p.m. Central Time/Pacific Time. To compensate, a channel may only air uncensored material after 1 a.m. Eastern Time so that the broadcast is in watershed in the contiguous United States. For example, Comedy Central only airs uncensored after 1 a.m. so that Eastern Time, Central Time, Mountain Time, and Pacific Time all have it past 10 p.m.[citation needed]

Cable and satellite channels are subject to regulations on what the FCC considers "obscenity," but are exempt from the FCC's "indecency" and "profanity" regulations, though many police themselves, mainly to appeal to advertisers who would be averse to placing their ads on their programs.

Some television and cinematic productions work around the requirement of a censor bleep by writing dialogue in a language that the intended audience is unlikely to understand (for example, Joss Whedon's Firefly used untranslated Chinese curses to avoid being 'bleeped',[13] while the Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes "The Last Outpost" and "Elementary, Dear Data" have the character of Capt. Jean-Luc Picard utter the French obscenity, merde, which is equivalent to "shit" in English.).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bustillos, Maria (2013-08-27). "Curses! The birth of the bleep and modern American censorship". The Verge. Retrieved 2019-08-20.
  2. ^ "Bleep-censor dictionary definition | bleep-censor defined". Retrieved 2019-08-20.
  3. ^ Robb, David (2016-03-10). "News Networks Should Stop Bleeping The Shit Out of Trump's Speeches". Deadline. Retrieved 2019-08-20.
  4. ^ Walker, Michael (2000-03-21). The Lexicon of Comicana. iUniverse. ISBN 978-0595089024.
  5. ^ Ratcliff, Ace (10 July 2018). "I Rely On Closed Captions to Enjoy a Show And I Don't Appreciate Netflix's Way of Censoring Them". SELF. Retrieved 2019-08-20.
  6. ^ Taberski, Dan (2019-06-18). "Opinion | Is the Show 'Cops' Committing Crimes Itself?". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-02-06.
  7. ^ Jordan, Matthew (2023-05-02). "Jerry Springer and the history of that [bleeping] bleep sound". The Conversation. Retrieved 2023-08-03.
  8. ^ Elliott, Josh. "Will Smith Lost It At Chris Rock Over A Joke About Jada's Baldness & The Oscars Muted Him - Narcity". Retrieved 2023-08-03.
  9. ^ Montgomery, Hanako (2022-03-28). "What Will Smith's Slap of Chris Rock Looks Like From Around the World". Vice. Retrieved 2023-11-14.
  10. ^ Spangler, Todd (2019-01-14). "YouTube Explains Which Profanities and 'Inappropriate Language' Are Not OK for Ad-Supported Videos". Variety. Retrieved 2023-08-03.
  11. ^ Mark Sweney, "Probe into Barnardo's F-word ads", The Guardian, 5 July 2007
  12. ^ "Obscenity, Indecency and Profanity". Retrieved 2012-01-19.
  13. ^ Goodrum, Michael; Smith, Philip (2015-02-02). Firefly Revisited: Essays on Joss Whedon's Classic Series. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-1-4422-4744-4.