Quick Poll: Should Debates Allow Swearing?

supreme court

I was interested to read that over in the states, the Supreme Court is currently toiling over the rights of people to say ‘Shit’ and ‘Fuck’ on television. And the hearing is just getting to the good part: the part where all the lawyers will have to use said swears over and over in the august chambers to make their points. It’s going to sound like Gordon Ramsay’s kitchen down there – only uttered by erudite barristers whose education costs are triple your net worth.

Giggles aside, it does raise an important point. Amongst adults, it could be argued that a well-placed profanity or two only brings a degree a flair to proceedings. If it helps your case, why not?

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3 thoughts on “Quick Poll: Should Debates Allow Swearing?

  1. Swearing only really helps a debate when it’s used for shock value; ie in the middle of a fairly eloquent speech to suddenly change the direction or grab attention. “Kant discussed his idea of the importance of moral obligations in his book ‘Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals’, in which he claimed that (yada yada yada)… Well, frankly, Kant can fuck right off, because in fact…” If you over-use it, it loses its effect and just turns the whole thing into a rant that is difficult to take seriously.

    Slightly removed from debating, but still on censorship: there was a hoo-ha a few years ago when Bono said on American TV when he won an award, “This is really, really fucking brilliant,” and the channel that aired it got sued. They won because of a loophole in the law; swearing is defined as, “material that describes or depicts sexual or excretory organs or activities,” and they argued (successfully) that he’d used it metaphorically.

    The authorities tried to prevent this from happening in the future by writing the most brilliant piece of legislation ever, which specifically banned:

    “the words ‘shit’, ‘piss’, ‘fuck’, ‘cunt’, ‘asshole’, and the phrases ‘cocksucker’, ‘motherfucker’, compound use (including hyphenated compounds) of such words and phrases with each other or with other words or phrases, and the other grammatical forms of such words and phrases, namely verb, adjective, gerund, participle and infinitive forms”.

    Which is all very well, until you realise that he actually used it as an adverb. Swearing 1: Congress 0.

  2. Actually I wouldn’t say the swearing improves the debate so much as the occasional use thereof makes the debate more colourful to listen to. 🙂 But as an American I think it’s absolutely absurd that there are all these words that you can’t say on TV. Even watching LOGO on cable TV, I’ve noticed words bleeped out. WTF? Of course it’s equally crazy that when Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunctions, CBS has to pay a massive fine.

  3. If nothing else, swearing is clearly an undervalued area of linguistic experimentation. My Spanish colleagues at work are always coming up with great new phrases/words, always rude but very amusing. They find it really enjoyable to create phrasal verbs out the words shit, f**k, c***(both), ass. Its never ending.

    Fernando – “David, can I say shit off?”
    David – “No”
    Fernando “What about cocking out”
    David – “Perhaps”

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