Penalizing Profanity







Profane language is used once every six minutes on network television shows, every two minutes on premium cable shows, and every three minutes in major motion pictures, according to a new study by the Centre for Media and Public Affairs¹.
Upon learning this information, one would make the assumption that profanity is another common attribute to our daily lives, such as brushing our teeth. But what is profane language? Webster’s dictionary defines it as being “the condition or quality of being profane - abusive, vulgar, or irreverent - and the use of such language.” However, although society is being exposed to this “coarse” language repeatedly, many are still being penalized for using it in day-to-day situations. The fact is, no matter what we do, profanity will always be there, whether it be in the form of the “f” word, or the generation’s most recent slang.
The basis of the problem is that the context of profane language has evolved to the point that its usage, to a certain degree, no longer invokes feelings of offence. Rather than being reserved for “moments of severe rage”, it is now being used in day-to-day situations without direct intention. Profane words have progressed from simple adjectives, to complex expressions, falling into nearly every grammatical category in the English language -verbs, transitive verbs, intransitive verbs, adverbs, pronouns, nouns, possessive, etc. Until profane language resumes invoking the same transgression it had previously inflicted, its restriction will not hold up.
But the real question is, whether people in society should be penalized for using language, which has obviously been absorbed and accepted by the television and radio audience.
For instance, in a school setting, a student who uses profane language can receive a suspension up to a 20-days in length. Why? Because of the Toronto District School Board’s “Zero Tolerance” ². However, the usage of tobacco and alcohol is also liable to a 20-day suspension. Whether this was intended for or not, the TDSB is promoting the image that usage of profane language is equivalent to that of tobacco and alcohol. Its guidelines state that “The Toronto District School Board is committed to providing a safe learning and working environment for all students, staff and visitors to our schools”. This statement leads one to believe that the TDSB’s mission is to keep its students safe by omitting and eliminating safety hazards. Does a “swearing” person generate a safety hazard? The clear answer is no.
Some people have taken the usage of profane language as far as legal punishment. During an incident in Standish, Michigan in August of 1998, a man was charged for using profane language, in accordance to a 104-year-old law, which “forbids cussing in front of women and children.”³ The incident began when 24-year-old Timothy Boomer fell out of his canoe while heading down stream. As he flopped in the water, he began yelling in the direction of his friends, inadvertently using profanity as a means to attract their attention, as well as communicate urgency. Shortly following his outburst, his friends learned of three sheriff’s deputies on the riverbank staring at them with binoculars. To their dismay, one of the deputies handed Boomer a misdemeanour citation. The charge: “cussing in front of women and children, which carries a penalty of up to 90 days in jail, and a $100 fine.” ³ Although this may seem obnoxious, his case was dismissed only after several attempts.
The redundancy of this incident was ludicrous. This man was only expressing his awkward situation through the usage of language, whether it be viewed as “obscene” or not, it was not causing any harm to bystanders. To imprison a person for using profanity is simply unjust. Profanity is a natural part of our upbringing, and laws against it will do nothing to prevent it.
The exposure of profanity during childhood is the leading provoker of the usage of this language. Children are constantly under the influence of coarse language, yet are disciplined when using it. The young are impressionable as is, and these mixed signals make it exceedingly difficult for them to differentiate between right and wrong. By the time a child reaches the second grade, they are probable to know well