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7 Dirty Words You Can’t Say on TV

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Truth is the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) doesn’t have a list of specific words that can’t be said on the airways. (However profane speech is banned on broadcast radio and television between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.) You can thank comedian George Carlin for the inventory of dirty words. In his uncensored 1972 monologue he made up a list of seven words you can never say on television and then proceeded to say them. But that was before cable television came along.


“Unfortunately swearing has moved way beyond salty sailors and people who smash their thumbs with a hammer”

According to the FCC website, “In the past, the FCC has enforced the indecency and profanity prohibitions only against conventional broadcast services, not against subscription programming services such as cable and satellite. However, the prohibition against obscene programming applies to subscription programming services at all times.”

As a result of violating the federal law against indecent and profane programming, the commission can impose fines, revoke a license or deny the broadcaster’s renewal application. For some people it can take work to control their tongue, especially in a moment of excitement. Cate Blanchett let one fly during an interview after winning an Oscar for her role in Blue Jasmine.

But others, like sportscaster Dan Dakich, have created their own routines for keeping it clean on air.

Unfortunately swearing has moved way beyond salty sailors and people who smash their thumbs with a hammer. Ride almost any form of public transit, walk by a schoolyard or go to the movies and you can get an earful.

While the Motion Picture Association of America also has profanity guidelines, moviemakers have been known to push the limits as well. Recently the filmmakers behind Draft Day appealed for a rating change after the film garnered an R-rating. The studio won and the rating was whittled down to a PG-13 although the foul language remained. The studio behind the movie Philomena also appealed for a lower rating.

The MPAA’s rating explanations do give parents some warning about the content found in films. For instance the rating explanation for Draft Day reads: on appeal for brief strong language and sexual references. The descriptor might not give parents all the information they need, but at least it lets them know their family might be in for a blue streak of profanities.


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