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The seven dirty words are seven English-language words that comedian George Carlin first listed in 1972 in his monologue "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television". At the time, the words were considered highly inappropriate and unsuitable for broadcast on the public airwaves in the United States, whether radio or television. As such, they were avoided in scripted material, and bleep-censored in the rare cases in which they were used; broadcast standards differ in different parts of the world, then and now, although most of the words on Carlin's original list remain taboo on American broadcast television as of 2010. The list was not an official enumeration of forbidden words, but rather was compiled by Carlin. Nonetheless, a radio broadcast featuring these words led to a Supreme Court decision that helped establish the extent to which the federal government could regulate speech on broadcast television and radio in the United States.



In 1972, Carlin released an album of stand-up comedy entitled Class Clown. One track on the album was "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television", a monologue in which he identified these words, expressing amazement that these particular words could not be used, regardless of context. He was arrested for disturbing the peace when he performed the routine at a show at Summerfest in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

On his next album, 1973's Occupation: Foole, Carlin performed a similar routine titled "Filthy Words", dealing with the same list and many of the same themes. Pacifica station WBAI-FM broadcast this version of the routine uncensored on October 30 that year. A man named John Douglas, who was driving in the car with his son, heard the early-afternoon broadcast and complained to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that the material was inappropriate for the time of day.[1]

Following the lodging of the complaint, the FCC proceeded to ask Pacifica for a response, then issued a declaratory order upholding the complaint. No specific sanctions were included in the order, but WBAI was put on notice that "in the event subsequent complaints are received, the Commission will then decide whether it should utilize any of the available sanctions it has been granted by Congress." Pacifica appealed this decision, which was overturned by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The FCC in turn appealed to the Supreme Court, which in 1978 ruled in favor of the FCC in FCC v. Pacifica Foundation.[2]

This decision formally established indecency regulation in American broadcasting. In follow-up rulings, the Supreme Court established the safe-harbor provision that grants broadcasters the right to broadcast indecent (but not obscene) material between the hours of 10 PM and 6 AM, when it is presumed many children will be asleep.[3][4] The FCC has never maintained a specific list of words prohibited from the airwaves during the time period from 10 PM to 6 AM, but it has alleged that its own internal guidelines are sufficient to determine what it considers obscene.[citation needed]The seven dirty words had been assumed to be likely to elicit indecency-related action by the FCC if uttered on a TV or radio broadcast, and thus the broadcast networks generally censor themselves with regard to many of the seven dirty words.

The words

The words are:

In his comedy special Again! Carlin commented that at one point, a man asked him to remove motherfucker because, as a derivative of fuck, it constituted a duplication.[5] He later added it back, claiming the bit's rhythm does not work without it.[5] Carlin did not believe that tits should be on the list because it sounds like a nickname or a snack ("New Nabisco Tits! ...corn tits, cheeze tits, tater tits").

In 1983's at Carnegie comedy special, Carlin expanded the list even further, reading a newly compiled list of over 200 dirty words from an oversized scroll.

Later use of the words

Some of the words on Carlin's original list have since been used to some degree on broadcast television in the United States. The word tits was uttered on the first episode of The Trials of Rosie O'Neill in 1990, sparking some controversy. It has been also uttered more recently in the popular Jimmy Kimmel video "I'm Fucking Ben Affleck," in which Ben Affleck utters "Hey, Sarah, he's got bigger tits", which originally aired on the After Oscar special of the ABC show Jimmy Kimmel Live after the 80th Annual Academy Awards, all without incident. The word "piss" (usually used in the context of the phrase "pissed off") has been commonplace since the 1980s. The word shit was heard on rare occasions in the 1990s, for the first time in an episode of Chicago Hope spoken by Mandy Patinkin, and later in the season eight episode of ER in which Dr. Mark Greene dies, and 162 times in the South Park episode "It Hits the Fan" (originally on cable, but censored in syndication on broadcast stations).

Producers have often implied the word fuck, although usually obscuring the word with a background sound effect or a beeping sound. One of Carlin's later additions to the list, fart, is also used frequently. Turd is regularly used on broadcast TV, though in performance Carlin explained that you can say it, "but who wants to?"

On March 10, 2002, CBS aired "9/11", a prime-time special featuring first responders during the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It contained a number of utterances of the word "fuck." [6] One notable early use of this word on American television occurred a few years after Carlin made his list, when the documentary Scared Straight!, which included numerous utterances of the word and its derivatives, was broadcast uncensored.

The FCC has often looked at the context of the use of a word when judging whether it is objectionable. This has at times led to controversy, such as when a bureau of the FCC deemed the utterance of the word fucking (as an intensifying adverb) in January 2003 at the live Golden Globe Awards broadcast by Bono, the front man of the band U2, not indecent under its criteria since they said that under the context of its use it was not intended to describe or depict sexual and excretory activities and organs.[7] The full FCC, however, later reversed the decision in early 2004, though a fine against Bono has not been levied. In December 2003 Congressman Doug Ose, citing the incident, introduced legislation in the US House of Representatives that would have explicitly deemed six of the words profane (tits was excluded but asshole added).[8][9]

In a similar incident on October 31, 2008, Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley took the stage at Citizens Bank Park during the team's World Series celebration and said "World champions. World fucking champions!" Utley's epithet was aired live on almost every television station in the Philadelphia television market. The FCC took no action.

When Norm MacDonald hosted Saturday Night Live on October 23, 1999, during a Celebrity Jeopardy! segment, MacDonald, portraying, Burt Reynolds, read "A petit" as "ape tit". This was written in the script.

The FCC does not directly target the networks — only stations carrying a network's programming are licensed. Since most of the networks own some of the stations that carry their programming, these stations can be fined as a way of indirectly fining the network.

In 1998, the members of the Federal Communications Bar Association, which included staff from the FCC, formed an Ultimate Frisbee team which they named "Seven Dirty Words" or 7DW. This team continues to play in the Washington Area Frisbee Club.[10]

In the episode Sailor Mouth of the show Spongebob Squarepants, Mr. Krabs states that there are thirteen bad words, to which Squidward replies "Aren't there only seven?"

Pay television

The FCC obscenity guidelines have never been applied to non-broadcast media such as cable television or satellite radio. It is widely held that the FCC's authorizing legislation (particularly the Communications Act of 1934 and the Telecommunications Act of 1996) does not enable the FCC to regulate content on subscription-based services, which include cable television, satellite television, and pay-per-view television. Whether the FCC or the Department of Justice could be empowered by the Congress to restrict indecent content on cable television without such legislation violating the Constitution has never been settled by a court of law. Since cable television must be subscribed to in order to receive it legally, it has long been thought that ability of subscribers who object to the content being delivered to cancel their subscription creates an incentive for the cable operators to self-regulate (unlike broadcast television, cable television is not legally considered to be "pervasive", nor does it depend on a scarce, government-allocated electromagnetic spectrum; as such, neither of the arguments buttressing the case for broadcast regulation particularly apply to cable television).

Self-regulation by many basic cable networks is undertaken by Standards & Practices (S&P) departments that self-censor their programming because of the pressure put on them by advertisers — also meaning that any basic cable network willing to ignore such pressure could use any of the Seven Dirty Words.

In recent years, all of the words on Carlin's list have come into commonplace usage in many made-for-cable series and film productions, such as Deadwood, The Sopranos, Nip/Tuck, Penn & Teller: Bullshit! and Dead Like Me, to name a few examples.

See also


External links

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