Opinion: Swear words

POSTED: 06/13/12 1:18 PM

A good thing also that Romain Laville does not live in Middleborough, a suburb of Boston, where citizens have joined forces to tackle swearing in public. A proposal by the local police chief to punish swearing in public with a $20 fine won the approval of a majority of the citizens.

The municipality says that this is not a matter of censorship, though Laville, and with him a majority of our prison population might feel different about this. No, Middleborough says, the purpose is to put a stop to crude language in the streets and in public parks.

Hm, this reminds us very much of the city of Beijing that wants to limit the number of flies that are allowed to buzz around in public toilets to two.

We figure that the city will have to draw up a list of the swearwords that fall under the new rule. Will foreign swearwords fall under the rule? Will a policeman in Middleborough understand it when a clever youngster shouts something like skata? Merde? Cachu?

The initiative is a desperate attempt to correct something incorrigible. Language is a living thing and certainly the language of the street will not let itself be regulated by a guy in a uniform.

In the Netherlands there was recently some debate about calling a policeman a mierenneuker (nit picker, literally: ant fucker). A court ruled that this is not always an insult, therefore also not always a swear word.

And then there is of course the right to freedom of expression. How do you oblige someone who bangs his head against a low hanging tree in a public park from expressing his frustration by using an expletive? What should one say in such a situation, in particular in Middleborough? Something like, “Aw, I really did not like that?” Why waste so many words while one powerful four-letter word says it all?

The brave people of Middleborough ought to go back to the drawing board and ask themselves why young people use at times such crash language. Could it be that they get a bad example at home? These fines will obviously not solve anything; they only reveal that the police force in Middleborough has a lot of time on its hands. That’s something the citizenry over there ought to be grateful for.



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