Question of the week: is swearing all right when no one understands it’s swearing?

Secret swearing has a long and honourable TV and movie tradition. Usually intended to outwit the censors, it can vary in execution but ultimately has the same aim. Star Trek: The Next Generation allowed Jean-Luc Picard to say merde, because it was assumed that no US viewers would understand it meant sh*t in French. Star Trek itself managed to sneak Uhura denying that she was a ‘fair maiden’ past the censor, while Battlestar Galactica pioneered new forms of swearing altogether with copious use of the word ‘frack’ as a replacement for the f-word.

The Avengers/Avengers Assemble recently took a leaf out of Worzel Gummidge‘s book – a show in which Jon Pertwee used to delight himself by using as many Elizabethan swearwords, including the likes of ‘swive’ as he possibly could – by having Loki describe Black Widow as a ‘mewling q**m’ – that would be a word that rhymes with ‘whim’ and is a Chaucerian synonym for the c-word. Now, if you look at the BBFC’s web site [spoilers], it gives an explanation in its extended classification information as to why it gave the film a 12A certificate:

The film also contains some mild bad language, such as uses of ‘hell’, ‘damn’, ‘ass’, ‘son of a bitch’, ‘pissed off’ and ‘bastards’

No mention of the use of the q-word. Whether that’s because no one at the BBFC knows what it means or because they figured that no one in the audience is likely to know or care, I can’t say. But it does lead to this week’s question:

Should the BBFC take into account swearing that only a portion of the audience will understand when it classifies movies? Should TV shows and movies forego fake swearing that has the same intent as swearing? Or is this all linguistic silliness?

Answers below or on your own blog, please




  • JEster

    You seem to answer your own question by starring the word “quim” yourself – shows what a nonsense the whole censorship debate is!

  • My censorship policies may not be the censorship policies of others…

  • It's all so bloody arbitrary these days. Films will happily be rated 12A despite having insane body counts, simply because there's no blood. Well, gosh: people dying is JUST FINE if there's no blood! But then should someone say “fuck”�THAT WILL END THE WORLD.

    But if there are standards at play, it would seem odd to not have them work across the board. I admit my ears perked up when I heard “mewling quim” and I was pretty shocked that they'd got it into the film. But then Whedon loves doing this thing, having got “wander” into Buffy.

  • bob

    Wander is a bad word?

  • bob

    Wander is a bad word?

  • Aylwardreed

    Funnily enough Joss Whedon used to use the word wanker and the raised middle finger on Buffy since it's a British thing and Americans don't use either(hence James Marster's Spike being the one to say this/gesture).
    Also, the Futurama character Amy Wong uses real Cantonese swear words which aren't censored.
    I really don't have a problem with swear words. Things that concern me on TV and film are�behavior,�and what is presented as 'ok'. Things like people on The Only Way is Essex et al behaving in such superficial, selfish and 'entitled' ways, as if it's normal makes me worry more about the influence it would have on younger people.
    Obviously you wouldn't want the f bomb every 2 minutes in a kids show but once you get to 12A films kids have heard all these things. As for everyone else I do think it's a good idea to warn about lots of strong language on the BBFC site so people who are offended or don't want their kids to hear these things can make informed choices as what to watch.
    I think it also comes down to context and whether it's swearing for swearing's sake…

    That's my rambling answer 🙂

  • Mark Carroll

    Mmmm. I allow my kids to watch more adult-media violence and suchlike than kids', actually, because the latter is more likely to seem cool and inconsequential; the adult stuff is more likely to include portrayal of the persistent, deleterious impact on others (at least in what we watch).

  • The mighty censoring power of Mac OS autocorrect, I suspect