Sunday, May 3, 2009

Fleeting Words

On FCC v. Fox Television Stations, in which the majority ruled that the FCC could fine television stations for broadcasting "fleeting" uses of dirty words:

Adam Freedman writes in the New York Times:
As much as one sympathizes with language prescriptivism in general (please, let us all resist “c u l8r”), censorship is necessarily a descriptivist endeavor. Indecency laws are tied to evolving community standards. In 1623, the English Parliament passed legislation to prohibit “profane swearing and cursing.” Under that law, people could be fined for uttering oaths like “upon my life” or “on my troth.” In the Victorian era, the word “bull” was considered too strong for mixed company; instead, one referred to “gentlemen cows.” Times change, notwithstanding the fervent wishes of prescriptivists to keep dirty words dirty.
The Supreme Court does not have a particularly sensible understanding of language or rhetoric, as it often proves in decisions about censorship, freedom of expression, and related matters.

Adam Freedman, "Gentlemen Cows in Prime Time," New York Times, 3 May 2009.

FCC v. Fox Television Stations, at SCOTUS Wiki

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