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Emily Popek

April 27, 2013

Editing the color out of my language

Swearing has historically gotten a bad rap. 

The father of our country, George Washington, took such a dim view of it that he issued an order barring his troops from engaging in the practice, observing that “it is a vice so mean and low, without any temptation, that every man of sense, and character, detests and despises it.”

Any schoolkid can tell you the words that will land him in the principal’s office. George Carlin famously made a comedy routine titled “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.” (It’s a safe bet to say you won’t be seeing them in this newspaper, either.) And indeed, while some of the words on Carlin’s list have since become less taboo, the Federal Communications Commission still enforces violations of “broadcast indecency.” 

But all that may be changing. 

The FCC has signaled it may be backing off its harsh treatment of what it calls “fleeting expletives.” Notably, outgoing FCC chairman Julian Genachowski actually praised David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox, who recently declared that “This is our (expletive) city” in a pregame ceremony honoring the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing. 

“David Ortiz spoke from the heart at today’s Red Sox game. I stand with Big Papi and the people of Boston,” Genachowski tweeted shortly after Ortiz dropped the F-bomb. 

So, if the chairman of the FCC doesn’t have a problem with it, why should we?

In the interest of full confession, I’ll say here that I am a swearer. I cannot bring myself to feel as Washington did — that swearing is something evil, sinful or wrong. 

That being said, I understand and acknowledge that it is the very fact of being taboo that gives these words their power. Whoever came up with that saying we foolishly teach our children, that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” probably was never called a really bad word by someone they care about. Or had a bad word shouted at them from someone driving by in a car. Because I’m here to tell you: those things do hurt. 

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Emily Popek
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