Seven dirty words

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The seven dirty words are seven English-language words that comedian George Carlin first listed in 1972 in his monologue "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television". At the time, the words were considered highly inappropriate and unsuitable for broadcast on the public airwaves in the United States, whether radio or television. As such, they were avoided in scripted material, and bleep-censored in the rare cases in which they were used; current broadcast standards differ somewhat. The list was not an official enumeration of forbidden words, but rather was compiled by Carlin. Nonetheless, a radio broadcast featuring these words led to a Supreme Court decision that helped establish the extent to which the federal government could regulate speech on broadcast television and radio in the United States.

In 1972, Carlin released an album of stand-up comedy entitled Class Clown. One track on the album was "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television", a monologue in which he identified these words, expressing amazement that these particular words could not be used, regardless of context. He was arrested for disturbing the peace when he performed the routine at a show at Summerfest in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

On his next album, 1973's Occupation: Foole, Carlin performed a similar routine titled "Filthy Words", dealing with the same list and many of the same themes. Pacifica station WBAI-FM broadcast this version of the routine uncensored on October 30 that year. A man named 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 in 1978 ruled in favor of the FCC in FCC v. Pacifica Foundation.[2]

This decision formally established indecency regulation in American broadcasting. In follow-up rulings, the Supreme Court established 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 presumed to be asleep.[3][4] The FCC has never maintained a specific list of words prohibited from the airways during the time period from 6 AM to 10 PM, but it has maintained general guidelines regarding obscenities.[5] 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.


[edit] The words

The words are:

Later, Carlin referred to three "auxiliary" words:

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.[6] He later added it back, claiming the bit's rhythm does not work without it.[6] Carlin did not 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.

[edit] Later use of the words

Some of the words on Carlin's original list 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 has been also uttered more recently in the popular Jimmy Kimmel video I'm fucking Matt Damon, in which Matt Damon 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 was heard on rare occasions in the 1990s, such as an episode of Chicago Hope, the season eight episode of ER in which Dr. Mark Greene dies, and extensively in the South Park episode "It Hits the Fan" (originally on cable, later in syndication on broadcast stations).

Producers have often implied the word fuck, although usually obscuring the word with a background sound effect or a beeping sound. One of Carlin's later additions to the list, fart, is also used frequently. Turd is regularly used on broadcast TV, though in performance Carlin explained that you can say it, "but who wants to?"

On March 10, 2002, CBS aired "9/11", a prime-time special featuring first responders during the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It contained a number of utterances of the word "fuck." [7]

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.[8] The full FCC, however, later reversed the decision in early 2004, though a fine against Bono has not yet been levied.

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.

[edit] 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 the 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).

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.

[edit] 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).[9]
  • 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 the 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 resulting battle with the FCC.
  • Seven Dirty Words was the first routine broadcast on XM Satellite Radio. They were spoken during the intro to Opie & Anthony's first show on XM in 2004.
  • Six days after George Carlin's death, on the June 24, 2008, in an 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.
  • On the Comedy Central Roast of Bob Saget, comedian Jeff Ross paid tribute to the Seven Dirty Words by saying another Seven Dirty Words that will be never be said on TV which are "And the Emmy goes to Bob Saget".
  • Carlin did an entire episode of his eponymous short-lived sitcom on the word "fuck" His character is charged with indecency for using the word in a public place. He argues with the judge that everyone uses the word, and it doesn't hurt anyone. The judge says he never uses it, but after George angers him enough, he lets it fly, and sheepishly dismisses the case. The word was used in the episode, but bleeped, and a small logo obscuring the user's mouth, presumably to avoid offending lip-readers.

[edit] See also

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[edit] References

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