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75 or so words you really ought to think about before you say them on UK radio



Ofcom (the United Kingdom’s equivalent of the FCC) has just published a new survey of which words British radio listeners and TV watchers don’t like, or sort of don’t like, or really object to, depending on the circumstances.

The most important circumstance is whether the word was said pre- or post-“watershed”—post being the equivalent of our “safe harbor” period in the United States for “indecent” or, as British broadcasting code classifies it, “offensive” language.

Our’s is 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. Their’s is 9 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. Those are the hours when, here in the U.S., you can say those seven dirty words that George Carlin so famously used in 1972.

Guess they go to bed a little earlier than we do. If you don’t like reading nasty words, please click away from this page, NOW. Otherwise, here goes.

When it came to “strong language”:

“most participants found the words ‘cunt’, ‘fuck’, ‘motherfucker’, ‘pussy’, ‘cock’ and ‘twat’ unacceptable pre-watershed and also wanted care to be taken over the use of the words ‘bitch’, ‘bastard’, ‘bugger’, ‘dick’, ‘wanker’, ‘shag’, ‘slag’ and ‘shit’. Post-watershed, ‘cunt’ and ‘motherfucker’ were considered the least acceptable words discussed in the research. There were mixed views on the use of the word ‘fuck’ which was considered more acceptable by some participants (e.g. younger people and male participants) but less acceptable by others (e.g. participants aged 55-75). Most participants also wanted some care to be taken over the use of the word ‘pussy’ post-watershed. The other words listed were seen to be acceptable postwatershed by most participants.”

When it came to “discriminatory language”:

“‘nigger’ and ‘Paki’ were seen as the most offensive words. Some participants thought it was acceptable to use them in some specific contexts (e.g. for educational use), whereas some thought they should not be used on television or radio in any context. The word ‘spastic’ was also generally considered unacceptable. Some discriminatory language polarised responses, particularly ‘retarded’, ‘gyppo’, ‘pikey’, ‘gay’ and ‘cripple’ as participants’ familiarity with and interpretation of, these words varied greatly, both within the general UK sample, and between the general UK sample and the minority groups.”

“Pikey”? I had no idea of the existence of some of these words, and I pride myself on being a foul mouthed person. Other naughty nouns queried included “Arse, Bollocks, Chick-with-dick, Fenian, Hun, Gender-Bender, Nutter, Schizo, Retard/retarded, Spastic/Spakka/Spaz, and Wanker.”

A good deal of the research appears to have focused on attitudes towards potentially homophobic language. The survey was done via a series of group discussions with a broad range of British radio and TV consumers.

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3 Responses to 75 or so words you really ought to think about before you say them on UK radio

  1. Julie Drizin June 10, 2010 at 10:46 am #

    Proving there really are so, so, so many more than 7 “dirty” words. I can’t imagine the U.S. FCC doing a similar study, can you? They’d probably redact it so heavily you could only deduce which words they are talking about. We’ll have to see if the Today show gets in trouble for its interview with a 13 year old girl who used the word c..t a few times.

    Julie Drizin

  2. Matthew Lasar June 10, 2010 at 11:34 am #

    Hey Julie: I really don’t think the government should be involved in these things. Regulatory agencies should be much more focused on making sure consumers have lots of choices, so that folks who want “family” media can get all they want of that, and the rest of us can listen to or watch people talk the way they actually do.

  3. Bonnie Simmons June 10, 2010 at 5:13 pm #

    Hi Matthew – good fun – thanks for the piece – here’s what I got when I looked up “pikey”

    Pikey is a pejorative slang term used mainly in the United Kingdom[1][2] to refer to Irish Travellers, gypsies or people of low social class. Pikey is also sometimes called a piker in the United States,[3] but a piker in Australia means someone who refuses to do something within a group.[4]

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