Seven dirty words: Difference between revisions

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<!-- NOTE: THIS IS NOT AN OBJECTIVE LIST OF DIRTY WORDS, IT IS AN ARTICLE ABOUT A ROUTINE BY THE COMEDIAN GEORGE CARLIN. PLEASE DO NOT ADD WORDS TO THE LIST BECAUSE YOU FEEL THEY BELONG, THAT IS NOT THE PURPOSE OF THIS LIST OR THIS ARTICLE. -->
 
<!-- NOTE: THIS IS NOT AN OBJECTIVE LIST OF DIRTY WORDS, IT IS AN ARTICLE ABOUT A ROUTINE BY THE COMEDIAN GEORGE CARLIN. PLEASE DO NOT ADD WORDS TO THE LIST BECAUSE YOU FEEL THEY BELONG, THAT IS NOT THE PURPOSE OF THIS LIST OR THIS ARTICLE. -->

Revision as of 02:18, 14 November 2008


The seven dirty words are seven English-language words that comedian George Carlin listed in his monologue "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television," released in 1972 on his album Class Clown. At the time, the words were generally considered highly inappropriate and unsuitable for use on the public airwaves in the United States, particularly on over-the-air television and AM/FM radio stations. Current practice is to allow the statement to stand but to bleep-censor the actual word.

On his next album, 1973's Occupation: Foole, Carlin did a similar routine titled "Filthy Words," dealing with the same list and many of the same themes. This version was broadcast uncensored by Pacifica radio station WBAI, which eventually led to a Supreme Court case, FCC v. Pacifica Foundation (1978), that helped define acceptable free speech limits on broadcast television and radio in the United States.

History

In 1972, comedian George Carlin was arrested for disturbing the peace when he performed the "Seven Dirty Words" routine at a show at Summerfest in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In 1973, Carlin recorded a monologue known as "Filthy Words," which contained seven obscenities. The Pacifica radio station WBAI-FM broadcast it uncensored on October 30 of the same year. John Douglas, who was driving in the car with his son, heard the broadcast and complained to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) because he was unhappy his son had heard it.[1]

Following the lodging of the complaint, the FCC proceeded to ask Pacifica for a response, then issued a declaratory order upholding the complaint. No specific sanctions were included in the order, but WBAI was put on notice that "in the event subsequent complaints are received, the Commission will then decide whether it should utilize any of the available sanctions it has been granted by Congress."

Pacifica appealed this decision, which was overturned by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The FCC in turn appealed to the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the FCC (see: FCC v. Pacifica Foundation 438 U.S. 726 (1978) and First Amendment Library entry on the case).

This decision formally established indecency regulation in American broadcasting. In follow-up rulings, the Supreme Court clarified that the words might be acceptable under certain circumstances, particularly at times when children would not be expected to be in the audience.[2][3]

The Seven Dirty Words

The words are:

  1. Shit
  2. Piss
  3. Fuck
  4. Cunt
  5. Cocksucker
  6. Motherfucker
  7. Tits

7b Nigger


The Three Auxiliary Words

Later, Carlin referred to three additional auxiliary words:

  1. Fart
  2. Turd
  3. Twat

In his comedy special Again! Carlin commented that at one point, a man asked him to remove motherfucker because, as a derivative of fuck, it constituted a duplication.[4] He later added it back, claiming the bit's rhythm doesn't work without it.[4] Carlin didn't believe that tits should be on the list because it sounds like a nickname or a snack ("New Nabisco Tits! ...corn tits, 'n' cheeze tits, 'n' tater tits").

In 1983's Carlin at Carnegie comedy special, Carlin expanded the list even further, reading a newly compiled list of over 200 dirty words from an oversized scroll.

Those words on Carlin's original list that are not directly related to sexual intercourse or sex have since been used to some degree on broadcast television in the United States. The word tits was uttered on the first episode of The Trials of Rosie O'Neill in 1990, sparking some controversy. It's been also uttered more recently in the popular Jimmy Kimmel video I'm fucking Ben Affleck, in which Ben Affleck utters, "Hey, Sarah, he's got bigger tits," which originally aired on the After Oscar special of the ABC show Jimmy Kimmel Live after the 80th Annual Academy Awards, all without incident. The word piss (usually used in the context of the phrase "pissed off") has been commonplace since the 1980s. The word shit has been heard on rare occasions, such as an episode of Chicago Hope, the season eight episode of ER in which Dr. Mark Greene dies and, perhaps most prominently, in the South Park episode "It Hits the Fan". The word shit has been openly used as of late on late prime-time series on cable channels such as FX.

Producers have often implied the word fuck, although usually obscuring the word with a background sound effect or a beeping sound. On cable channels (such as Fox Networks' cable channel FX), words like cocksucker are more common, but because this is pay-for-tv via cable or satellite, it is generally more lax than on broadcast television. One of Carlin's later additions to the list, fart, is also used frequently. Turd is regularly used both on Network and Cable TV, though in performance Carlin explained you can say it, "but who wants to?"

In 1969, Esquire Magazine published an article by Ethel Grodzins Romm titled "**** is No Longer a Dirty Word." This article listed seven four-letter words that could not be used in English-language publications, including dictionaries: arse, piss, shit, fuck, cunt, cock and fart.[5]

FCC Regulations Regarding Obscenities in Broadcast Media

During the court case over Carlin's monologue, the United States Supreme Court established in the Pacifica decision the safe-harbor provision that grants broadcasters the right to broadcast indecent (but not obscene) material between the hours of 10 PM and 6 AM, when children are thought not to be awake. Thus, the FCC has mainly been concerned with indecent content shown or heard between 6 AM and 10 PM. The FCC has never maintained a specific list of words prohibited from the airways during this time period, but it has maintained general guidelines regarding obscenities.[6] The seven dirty words had been assumed to be likely to elicit indecency-related action by the FCC if uttered on a TV or radio broadcast, and thus the broadcast networks generally censor themselves with regard to many of the seven dirty words. While most of the original seven dirty words are still viewed as inappropriate for broadcast television and radio (based on previous actions by the FCC), the words tits and piss are generally no longer deemed unacceptable for broadcast over public airwaves during restricted hours in the United States.

The FCC has often looked at the context of the use of a word when judging whether it is objectionable. This has at times led to controversy, such as when a bureau of the FCC deemed the utterance of the word fucking (as an intensifying adverb) in January 2003 at the live Golden Globe Awards broadcast by Bono, the front man of the band U2, not indecent under its criteria since they said that under the context of its use; it was not intended to describe or depict sexual and excretory activities and organs.[7] The full FCC, however, later reversed the decision in early 2004, though a fine against Bono has not yet been levied.

The differentiation between indecent and obscene material is a particularly difficult one, and a contentious First-Amendment issue that has not fully been settled. Similarly, the level of offense (if any) generated by a profane word or phrase depends on region, context, and audience.

In recent years, letter-writing campaigns engineered by American evangelical Christian groups have drawn attention to the issue of indecency in television. In some cases, thousands of complaints have been received by the FCC, particularly in situations in which children have been exposed to questionable material during restricted hours, at which time it is estimated that children are watching.

The FCC does not directly target the networks—only the stations carrying a network's programming are licensed. Since most of the networks own some of the stations that carry their programming, these stations can be fined as a way of indirectly fining the network.

The Words and Cable Television

The FCC obscenity guidelines have never been applied to non-broadcast media such as cable television or satellite radio. It is widely held that the FCC's authorizing legislation (particularly the Communications Act of 1934 and the Telecommunications Act of 1996) does not enable the FCC to regulate content on subscription-based services, which include cable television, satellite television, and pay-per-view television. Whether the FCC or the Department of Justice could be empowered by Congress to restrict indecent content on cable television without such legislation violating the Constitution has never been settled by a court of law. Since cable television must be subscribed to in order to receive it legally, it has long been thought that ability of subscribers who object to the content being delivered to cancel their subscription creates an incentive for the cable operators to self-regulate. (Unlike broadcast television, cable television is not legally considered to be "pervasive," nor does it depend on a scarce, government-allocated electromagnetic spectrum; as such, neither of the arguments buttressing the case for broadcast regulation particularly apply to cable television.)

However, as of 2005, some living in the United States have begun to call for FCC regulation of subscription-based television and radio. One argument for such regulation is that it may be impossible to receive more than a bare minimum of broadcast television stations over the air in more rural areas of the United States and, as such, not having a cable or satellite subscription is tantamount to having no television at all for residents of these areas. This and other arguments have been made (among others) by Randy Short of the American Family Association. (See also 'The Connection', National Public Radio, 2005-04-12)

Self-regulation by many basic cable networks is undertaken by Standards & Practices (S&P) departments that self-censor their programming because of the pressure put on them by advertisers—also meaning that any basic cable network willing to ignore such pressure could use any of the Seven Dirty Words.

Some networks have already allowed the use of some of the words in shows such as Comedy Central's South Park episode "It Hits the Fan," during which the word shit is uttered 162 times in one half hour (a counter was provided at the bottom of the screen). The series also uses the words tits, turd, and piss on many occasions. Comedy Central also has established a Secret Stash time slot after 1:00 AM ET on weekends, when it will air material such as the R-rated films South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999) and Kevin Smith's Clerks. (1994), or performances by comedians, including Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, Sarah Silverman, and Carlin himself, without censoring the language. However, despite its advertising that the broadcasts are uncensored, images of nudity are blurred most of the time. An exception was Rodney Carrington's 2007 Comedy Central special, which featured women flashing the camera unedited.

Likewise, Turner Classic Movies will also air movies that contain strong language. A frequent example would be A Few Good Men after midnight without censoring.

Other Countries

In many other countries, such as Australia and, to a lesser extent, the United Kingdom, this practice does not stand, and these statements are allowed on air unaltered but are instead subject to a system of self-regulation, whereby the intended audience and time slot of the program are taken into account when formulating profanity-related policies. For example, the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation, one of the public broadcasters in Australia) rarely broadcasts these words on its Classic FM radio station, whereas on Triple J, its youth radio station, these words freely pass and are rarely censored. In the UK on both TV and Radio there is a watershed which occurs at 2100 hours. Prior to that time content is expected to be generally suitable for all audiences, although it is hard to find a concrete definition of what is suitable and, after 9:00 PM, essentially anything goes. This censorship is applied to both audio and video in respect of the various taboo subjects, particularly concerning sex and drug-related activities. Since the broadcasters operate in a legislated but fundamentally self-regulated environment, there tends to be a correlation between the lateness of the programs and the maturity of the content. These words have been acceptable in broadcasting in the UK for at least 20 years, and the censorship described here simply does not happen.[citation needed] In some countries, such as Sweden and Germany, there is no censorship at all, and one could use the word fuck in a children's program in the middle of the afternoon—as has happened without incident.[citation needed]

Pop-culture References

  • Blink-182 made reference to the list in its 35-second song "Family Reunion," which is composed using the words from Carlin's ten-word version of the list and then ending with "I fucked your mom!"
  • In the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Sailor Mouth," SpongeBob and Patrick say #11 on a list of 13 swear words you should never use, which—in a parody of audio censorship—was the sound effect of a dolphin braying, Squidward Tentacles asks, "Don't you mean there are only seven?" Eugene Krabs replies, "Not if you're a sailor, heh-heh."
  • In an episode of The Simpsons, Krusty the Clown is threatened with legal action over the phone by somebody representing George Carlin, after using "Seven Words You Can't Say on TV" in his act. Krusty tries to defend himself by claiming that his list was entirely different from Carlin's.
  • In the episode "It's All Over Now" of That '70s Show, Eric is seen listening to a George Carlin record and remarks on the list. Later in that episode, Eric refers to Donna's boss using numbers that refer to the list saying, "You sixing, sevening monkey fiver. You think your one don't stink, well, three off, you threein' three!" (You motherfucking, titsing monkey cocksucker. You think your shit don't stink. Well, fuck off, you fuckin' fuck!) The number abbreviations are used on two other occasions, when Eric says that he and Donna should "five all night" (cocksucking) and, after Donna tricks a disc jockey into playing George Carlin's "Seven Dirty Words" routine on the air to get her fired, Donna says that a few middle-aged women listening really didn't like number four (cunt).[8]
  • On the Killer B's E.P., Anthrax makes use of—and renounce the banning of—seven allegedly offensive words in the song "Starting up a Posse." The words used to make up the list are shit, fuck, satan, death, sex, drugs, and rape.
  • In the South Park episode "It Hits the Fan," Stan, Eric, Kyle, and Kenny come across a set of eight runestones, each devoted to fighting a curse word. (The list is not identical; included along with shit and fuck are asshole and mee krob, a Thai dish which Eric Cartman detests, saying, "God must hate it as much as I do.")
  • In Howard Stern's film Private Parts, a studio attorney cautions against the use of the Seven Dirty Words. However, in Stern's list, tits and piss are replaced with cock and pussy.
  • In an episode of Everybody Hates Chris, Mrs. Louise gives Chris's mother a dirty look, which the narration describes as meaning "all seven words you can't say on television." In a later episode, Chris finds and listens to Class Clown including the Seven Dirty Words. The audience, however, only sees Chris laughing with headphones on. For the remainder of that episode, the adult Chris Rock, heard in voiceover, uses Carlin’s numbers to refer to the words.
  • In the episode about profanity, Penn & Teller's Bullshit! brings up the Seven Dirty Words and the following battle with the FCC.
  • Seven Dirty Words was the first routine broadcast on XM Satellite Radio.
  • Six days after George Carlin's death, on the June 24, 2008, episode of The Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert paid tribute to Carlin, satirically praising him as a crusader for censorship who was responsible for banning the Seven Dirty Words, saying: "Thank you, George Carlin. Few people have done more to repress what other people can say." At the end of the piece, Stephen's producer corrects him, telling him that Carlin was a comedian who "used (those words) to point out the ridiculousness of banning words in the first place." Colbert's response was to look at Carlin's picture and snap, "you motherfucker!" which was bleeped.

See also

References

  1. ^ Boca Man Forever Linked To George Carlin. WPEC, June 23, 2008.
  2. ^ "Seven Dirty Words You Can't Say on TV" – script
  3. ^ "Seven words you can never say on television"... but which are said on the Internet. A lot.—survey onthe prevalence of the Seven Words in political blogs
  4. ^ a b Carlin, George. On Location: George Carlin at Phoenix (DVD). HBO Home Video. 
  5. ^ Romm, Ethel Grodzins. "**** is No Longer a Dirty Word," Esquire Magazine, April 1969, p. 135
  6. ^ http://www.fcc.gov/eb/Orders/2001/fcc01090.html
  7. ^ Urban Legends Reference Pages: FCC vs. F-Word
  8. ^ Mark Hudis (2005-02-16). "It's All Over Now". That '70s Show. Season 7. Episode 15. 7 and 12 minutes in. Fox Broadcasting Company. 

External links