There are 400,000 words in the English language, and there are seven you can’t say on television. What a ratio that is! 399,993 to 7. They must really be baaaad. They must be OUTRAGEOUS to be separated from a group that large. “All of you words over here, you seven…baaaad words.” That’s what they told us, right?
- George Carlin
George Carlin achieved fame early in his career but rose to superstar status when the US Federal Communications Department (FCC) confronted him over the usage of his famous “Seven Dirty Words” comedy routine. They used his comedy routine to create (some say reinforce) the law that gave the US government the power to regulate indecent material on public airwaves such as television and radio. This affront to the concept of freedom of speech was protested long and loudly by many, yet it continues to be in place today.
Carlin was arrested for violating obscenity laws in 1972 at Milwaukee’s Summerfest after performing his “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” routine. While that case was dismissed, in 1973, a man complained about a radio station in New York playing the same routine over the air, which brought the FCC into play and led to the prohibition on “indecent” content “during the hours when children are likely to be among the audience.”
He fought it every step of the way, and over the many years of his career, the list of words you can’t say on television, or in public, grew to hundreds, many contributed by fans. The absurdity of words “you cannot say” caught the imagination of millions as they reconsidered the concept of appropriate language. The American vernacular loosened up and many of these “dirty words” are now considered acceptable, though some words continue to be on the “bad” list.
Today, while some of these words cannot be said on television, many can be. In a recent episode from the television show Parenthood, they used several words associated with sexuality and puberty rarely heard on television, an example of the impact Carlin had on not just television but our language in general.
I’m proud of George Carlin. That’s an odd thing to say about a comedian, but it’s the truth. He was a big influence on my life, my use of language, and how I write and the words I select. Mostly I’m proud of how he continued to fight in his own way for our freedom of speech, even when the government fought back.
Your blog exercise is to consider the words you can and cannot use on your site.
In the blog exercises on site policies and blogger’s code of ethics, and an upcoming one on creating a comments policy, I want you to seriously consider what words and “language” you will or will not allow on your site.
Freedom of speech does not mean you can say anything you want. It means that you have rights and responsibilities towards the words you use in public. You need to set the terms and conditions for what language is acceptable on your blog.
We all have our moral values and guidelines about language. While I may cuss like a truck driver or logger in my day-to-day life, I won’t allow anything harsher than “shit” to be published on this site in the content and comments. Other sites I’m much more lax about profanity, but each site needs its own guidelines and rules.
What are yours? What words will you allow or edit when encountering them in the comments?
Once you’ve evaluated the list, update your comment and other liability policies to clarify your language guidelines, or stay tuned for the upcoming comments policy blog exercise.
Remember to include a hat tip link back to this post to create a trackback if you blog about this topic, or leave a properly formed link in the comments so participants can check out your blog exercise task.