*Shit and Fuck*
Language, Morality, and
Politics
Now that I have your attention
Language is composed of sound+meaning
associations
Speech communities are composed of
individuals, who as a group, agree on
sound+meaning correspondences
Agreement = possible communication
(if we don’t agree, we can’t communicate)
rooster
rooster
teacups
teacups
purple
purple
pernicious
pret·ty \ˈpri-tē\ adj
Middle English praty,
prety, from Old English
prættig tricky, from
prætt trick; akin to Old
Norse prettr trick
1 a: artful , clever
2 a: pleasing by delicacy
or grace
b: having conventionally
accepted elements of
beauty
per·ni·cious \pər-ˈnishəs\ adj
Middle English, from
Anglo-French, from
Latin perniciosus, from
pernicies destruction,
from per- + nec-, nex
violent death
1: highly injurious or
destructive : deadly
2: archaic : wicked
“Look at the pernicious purple teacups on that
rooster.”
“Look at the pernicious purple teacups on that
rooster.”
“Look at the pernicious purple teacups on that
rooster.”
“Look at the pernicious purple teacups on that
rooster.”
Why are some words bad?
Most of the people in a language community
agree on the meaning, or “denotation” of
words
Most people in that culture also agree on the
“connotation” of those words -- that
includes various nuances associated with
those words, such as dialect or other lect
memberships, level of prestige, register,
allowable context
Why are some words bad?
Some words are bad because what they
denote is taboo, such as sex or bodily
functions
Some words become bad because
connotations are associated with the word
In my extended family, “liberal” has come to
be a bad word, said only with lip-curling,
sneering, and hissing.
Why are some words bad?
Cultural norms dictate what is taboo, and
therefore, which words are bad.
Cultural norms also dictate what is considered
proper or correct.
Associations with certain less prestigious
groups are discouraged by the majority
group, therefore usage that invokes that
group is discouraged
Who is allowed to say what
Group membership
Why does Snoop-Dog carry an umbrella -fo’ drizzle
What does Snoop-Dog use to get his whites
white -- blee-ach
Who is allowed to use the N-word
Who is allowed to say what
http://media.mtvnservices.com/mgid:cms:item
:southparkstudios.com:152624:
Who is allowed to say what
Context
Archaic or formulaic language in
Poetry
Thou art as beautiful as a summer day
Religion
Thy will be done, not mine
Who is allowed to say what
“Ladies don’t curse”
Curse words are considered too strong, powerful
Cursing = man’s domain
“Educated people don’t curse”
Cursing = lower prestige, only poor jerks who have
to work for their money can curse
“Gentleman’s ain’t” - if used sparingly, cursing and
improper grammar can be a reflection of power
Who is allowed to say what
Teenagers:
Cursing becomes a tool to throw off authority and
claim power for oneself -- you’re not the boss of
me -- like toddlers learning “no”
Young adults:
Learning when cursing is/isn’t appropriate in their
specific culture and speech community
Who is allowed to say what
Is excessive cursing a violation of usage standards,
like non-standard grammar, or is it a violation of
moral standards?
It depends on whom you ask.
(more on this later)
We allow government agencies
to police our language
Patchwork of local, state, and federal laws
regulating “obscenity”
Academia regulates grammar and usage,
though not in an official status
FCC - Federal Communications Commission
-covers all “broadcast” activities
What is the FCC?
Created by Fed. Communications Act of 1934
Amended by Telecommunications Act of 1996
Federal entity responsible for regulation of
communications, such as radio, tv, phone,
and now internet
We allow government agencies
to police our language
FCC v Pacifica 1973
Standards for broadcast defined
Based on outcome of Supreme Court’s ruling
on George Carlin’s “Filthy Words” routine
Allowed “fleeting” expletives, but not
pervasive or intending to shock
Upheld FCC’s authority to censor
George Carlin “Filthy Words”
1973
What about the goddamn
1st Amendment?
-- From the FCC:
Expressions of views that do not involve a
“clear and present danger of serious
substantive evil” come under the protection
of the Constitution.
But the FCC can regulate obscenity,
indecency, and profanity
WTF?
More from the FCC…
Obscene speech is not protected by the First
Amendment to the Constitution and cannot
be broadcast at any time. The Supreme
Court has established that, to be considered
obscene, material must meet a threepronged test: (Miller v California, 1973)
More from the FCC…
An average person, applying contemporary
community standards, must find that the material,
as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest;
The material must depict or describe, in a patently
offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined
by applicable law; and
The material, taken as a whole, must lack serious
literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.
Prurient?
pru·ri·ent
adj.
: marked by or arousing an immoderate or
unwholesome interest or desire ; especially :
marked by, arousing, or appealing to sexual
desire
More from the FCC…
The FCC has defined broadcast indecency as “language
or material that, in context, depicts or describes, in
terms patently offensive as measured by contemporary
community standards for the broadcast medium,
sexual or excretory organs or activities.” […]
FCC rules prohibit indecent speech on broadcast radio
and television between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m., when there
is reasonable risk that children may be in the
audience.
More from the FCC…
• The FCC defines profane material as
“including language so grossly offensive to
members of the public who actually hear it
as to amount to a nuisance.” Like
indecency, profane speech is prohibited on
broadcast radio and television between 6
a.m. and 10 p.m.
Fox v FCC 2003
• FCC fined Fox for “fleeting expletives”
occurring in 2002 and 2003
• Fox appealed and won in 2006, on the basis
that FCC’s new standards were not justified
• FCC appealed - upcoming hearing in
Supreme Court on Nov. 4th, 2008.
Freedom v morality
Why are FCC standards becoming more
restrictive?
Divide over cursing and “obscenity” seems to
fall more or less along the lines of political
ideology.
1st amendment versus legislation of
“morality” - whose morals?
What is morality?
Recent psychology research suggests 5 axes
of morality, though cultures place different
emphasis on each
• Care/non-harm
• Justice/fairness
• In-group/loyalty
• Authority/power
• Purity/sanctity
What is morality?
Recent psychology research also suggests an
ideological divide between liberals and
conservatives
• Care/non-harm
-L. univ healthcare
• Justice/fairness
-L. affirmative action
• In-group/loyalty
-C. “with us or against us”
• Authority/power
-C. Patriot Act
• Purity/sanctity
-C. ban on gay marriage
What is morality?
What is morality?
What is morality?
Extended to language?
What about the agreement?
• Liberals and conservatives really are
speaking different languages.
What about the agreement?
Remember:
Is excessive cursing a violation of usage standards, like nonstandard grammar, or is it a violation of moral standards?
Are they just words or expressions of moral turpitude?
It depends on whom you ask.
In-group/loyalty
- who curses (not us)
Authority/power
- who is allowed to curse, traditions
Purity/sanctity
- taboo subjects, language “purity”
What about the agreement?
The country seems polarized by this morality split, with both
sides thinking the other side is “immoral” because they
have different morality continua.
Legislation of “morality” comes down to the same questionWhose morality?
Is it fair for liberals to want to institute social justice
programs based on their care+fairness axes while the other
side doesn’t care as much about that kind of morality?
Is it fair for conservatives to institute laws prohibiting samesex marriage, abortion, and profanity, when the other side
doesn’t care as much about that kind of morality?
What about the agreement?
How do we communicate with each other?
What about the agreement?
How do we communicate with each other?
Fuck you
--no, fuck you
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Wpn1gp-gcU
To think about…
• How can we better communicate with each
other?
• Why is sex considered obscene, but graphic
violence and murder not?
• Whose morality should we legislate?
• Or should we?
References
Carlin, George. 1973 “Filthy Words.” Transcript from
http://www.law.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/conlaw/filthywords.html
Federal Communications Commission website. www.fcc.gov
FCC v. PACIFICA FOUNDATION, 438 U.S. 726 (1978) Full record of Supreme
Court’s findings:
http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=438&invol=726
Haidt, Jonathan. 2008. Current studies of morality and politics
http://www.yourmorals.org/
Sheffield, Matthew. “Profanity Greater on Liberal Blogs.” The Washington Times.
Aug. 7, 2008. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2008/aug/07/profanitygreater-on-liberal-blogs/
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S*** and F*** - Ohio State Linguistics