January 25, 2004

Some people should get a life

In a bit of surprisingly clear thinking for a government agency, which it appears to be on the verge of recanting, the Federal Communications Commission has already pointed out one linguistic error in the complaint by the Parents' Television Council about the use of the word fucking on television discussed in Mark Liberman's post. In the sentence:

This is really, really fucking brilliant.

fucking is an adverb meaning more-or-less the same thing as really and does not refer to sex.

But there is another error of a psycholinguistic nature in the premise underlying both the FCC's regulations and the complaint, namely that it is somehow harmful to children to be exposed to discussion of sex or excretion. This idea is to my knowledge wholly unsupported by evidence. The Parents' Television Council web site, doesn't seem to contain any. On the other hand, acting prissy about such matters pretty definitely contributes to feelings of shame and, in layman's terms, gives children complexes. That's bad enough in itself, but even worse, it discourages openness and free discussion. That leads to unwanted pregnancy, failure to report and address sexual abuse, and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

What is even odder is that it is only "indecent" language referring to sex and excretion that is supposed to be harmful. Apparently, there is no objection to references to copulation or feces. Is this because they figure children won't understand such words? I don't think so. They object to bitch, but not to girl dog, though in this case it is the "indecent" word that children are less likely to understand.

Different languages and cultures seem to taboo different words, and to different degrees. French merde, for example, is considered off-color, but it is much milder than English shit. The Japanese equivalent kuso is stronger. Carrier tsan is not tabooed at all. There is no distinction between a tabooed term like shit and acceptable terms like excrement and feces. There are vulgar and euphemistic terms for sex.

What amazes me is that people can devote so much energy to such utterly trivial, if not actually wrong-headed, causes and waste taxpayer money on them, and in the process infringe on the fundamental and fragile right of freedom of speech, when there are real problems that deserve our attention. This is really, really fucking stupid.

Posted by Bill Poser at January 25, 2004 09:28 PM