Jewish World Review Jan. 30, 2004 / 7 Shevat, 5764

Lori Borgman

Lori Borgman
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Consumer Reports

Profanity brings out the f-word (fury) | While channel surfing the other night, I came across an adorable sitcom kid using a three-letter word for the human backside that rhymes with a wide-mouth fish. I zapped the kid with the remote. He didn't feel a thing, which is most unfortunate.

Maybe I should have waited to see if the adorable sitcom mom came back after the commercial break and washed his mouth out with soap. Finally, some reality television to get enthused about.

Potty mouth is epidemic. Kids, adults, even presidential candidate Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., let it fly on the campaign trail.

Last fall the FCC ruled that using the dirtiest of the dirties (yes, the word that has made every kids' mother turn red and blow smoke out her ears) was fine by them as long as the word was used as an "adjective or an expletive to emphasize an exclamation" and "not used in a sexual situation."

When was the last time one of your kids used an off-color word and you paused to diagram the sentence?

"Mommy was going to swat your little behind for using that bad word, Jeffie, but since you used the word as an adjective, Mommy's going to let it go this time. Just be sure you don't ever use it as a noun, which for review purposes, Jeffie, would be a person, place or thing. Oh, and don't use it in a sexual situation."

"What's a sexual situation, Momma?"

"We'll talk about that after nap time, Jeffie."

Maybe in Tinsel Town, but not in the real world.

A little four-year-old friend was sharing bits and pieces of news recently when her brown eyes grew big and she said that her mom put "binegar" on her tongue for saying a bad word. Binegar is vinegar when you can't pronounce your v's.

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Another friend told of showing a video to kids at a family gathering recently. It was only a mild exaggeration when she said she fast forwarded through so many parts with inappropriate matter that the movie was finished before the microwave popcorn was.

Responsible parents don't hit the play button on a laugh track when lewd talk fills their homes. They squash it like a bug. Nor do they want vulgarities casually popping up on TV or radio.

Some 1.5 million people bombarded FCC Chairman Michael Powell with e-mails expressing that same sentiment. Powell reversed course and announced he now wants to prohibit the use of the f-word and drastically increase fines for stations that violate the indecency law. (And you thought those calls and e-mails never made a difference.)

Yet there will continue to be a tug of war between what constitutes decent and indecent as the major networks continue to push the envelope. After all, they must keep up, or down in this case, with the cable airwaves where foul mouths and coarse behavior are standard fare.

Cable personalities such as Howard Stern, the Osbournes and the Sopranos are adept at using obscenities as nouns, verbs, conjunctions, prepositions, commas and semi-colons. They would be hard pressed to play Scrabble using more than four tiles a turn.

There are around one million words in the English language. The average number of words used by the average American is estimated at 10,000. The average number of words recognized by the average American (George Will not included) is somewhere between 30,000 and 50,000.

There are about 20 vulgar words in the English language. We can survive without them.

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JWR contributor Lori Borgman is the author of I Was a Better Mother Before I Had Kids. To comment, please click here. To visit her website click here.

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© 2001, Lori Borgman