Open Questions

Open Questions: Are You Bothered By Swearing On Television?

a sign indicating no profanity.

Blue language always makes for a very tricky discussion. This weekend, The New York Times ran a piece fairly openly lamenting, in what's intended as a news piece, the fact that there are more uses of what might be considered semi-swearing — words like "bitch" and "douche" that aren't officially profanity but aren't considered nice words — on television.

I have certainly sworn plenty in my life, though I do it less than I used to. As I've acknowledged before, I tend to resist efforts to scrub the language entirely, and I certainly resist the idea that profanity is inherently uncreative. In the right situation, it packs an entirely appropriate situation-specific punch, particularly when used sparingly. I often forget that swearing is even allowed on Mad Men until somebody unloads an unexpected non-broadcast-friendly word, because it doesn't happen very often at all. They dole it out in small doses, which means you don't simply stop hearing it. When somebody suddenly says "B—-s—-" on Mad Men, you sit up.

It's absolutely true that in a word like "sucks," you can easily see the evolution of these things — when I was growing up, "sucks" was only slightly less bad than an actual bad word, and now it's really a big nothing.

So this is my question: How do you feel about that gradual process of coarsening that seems to be inevitable and unstoppable? Is it so inevitable that it doesn't really matter?



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