One of the biggest arguments regarding profanity I ever heard in school at every level — grade school, high school, and even at Rutgers — was that profanity was arbitrary because people just decided that one word was going to be a profanity and another would not. Historically, words that were once rather vulgar can sometimes lose their insulting quality. Some terms that have lost their insulting quality to some extent include once highly offensive terms like dork, nerd, and geek. Now some people even wear the words as though they were a badge of honor!

In the United States there are certain words that cannot be used on broadcast television — television for which there is no extra pay required, such as network television. You cannot be on a television show on NBC, for example, and use the so called “f” word. It is routinely heard on television shows airing on premium cable channel HBO, on the other hand. When it comes to public performance — live theater, a concert — pretty much anything goes as far as what the performer says. They can say any words they wish without fear of censorship.

This is not quite the case in Jamaica, where performers are warned not to use foul language onstage — with threat of fees and community service if it is used. A number of years ago, musician Sean Paul got fined for using foul language onstage — he was handed the summons after leaving the stage.

More recently, musician Nicki Minaj was fined for using foul language during her own performance. Due to the weakness of Jamaican currency, the fine worked out to be about seven dollars — barely a slap on the wrist. So on the one hand they do not wish to have performers using certain language while performing live, but the actual enforcement of the law comes in the form of ridiculous fines that are less than the average performer spends on drinks on any given day.

It would seem to me that if they were really interested in cracking down on obscene language being used, the performers using the language would be banned from performing, or perhaps even required to do community service. Something with an actual sting and not a measly fine — that is what it takes to get a message across. Minaj barely even registered the fine, instead Tweeting about what a great fun time she had performing in the country. Lesson not learned!


  1. Curse words are interesting, Gordon. The F-word has been around for a long while, yet it still has a certain stigma. Were “dork” and “geek” and “nerd” ever considered profane?

  2. David,

    The word Dork used to be way more offensive — or at least people took it that way. It wasn’t something you would call someone in public :

    Walking around midtown yesterday it struck me how much more openly people use foul language. I heard a woman using every foul word imaginable, with children in plain sight! People are more vulgar now than ever, I believe.

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