Press poll conducted in March 2006 found that sixty-four percent of
those surveyed used the word fuck .
Our President reportedly uses it
The Vice President embraces it as well.
But if you
wear a t-shirt printed with pictures of Bush, Cheney, and Secretary of
State Condoleeza Rice labeled “Meet the Fuckers,” intended as a parody
of the popular comedy “Meet the Fockers,”
get ready to be kicked off
Fuck remains a word “known by all and recognized by
To understand this dichotomy over “our worst word,” I turn to
Id. I certainly identify with Anderson’s sentiments. The decision to title this Article F
me to undertake the same type of assessment. I concluded, as did Anderson, that the title itself
serves as a catalyst for the conversation on the force of word taboo.
Despite attempts at censorship, fuck pops up on television. See Robert S. Wachal, Taboo
or Not Taboo: That is the Question, 77 A
195, 204 (2002) (identifying “What the fuck
was that?” as an ad lib on Saturday Night Live (NBC television broadcast Apr. 12, 1997) and the
use of fuck the next week to explain the prior accidental use); Sheidlower, supra note 27, at xxi
(describing use on “Saturday Night Live” and Grammy Awards show). Of course, when fuck is
broadcast over television today, the offending stations can be subject to FCC fines. See infra Part
See Indrajit Samarajiva, Fuck Linguistics: Use of Fuck on the Billboard Charts 1982-2002
(Dec. 8, 2003) (unpublished manuscript), http://indi.ca/papers/fuckLinguistics.pdf (finding a
significant increase in the use of fuck over the past twenty years in Billboard Top Ten Albums).
Jocelyn Noveck, In Public, Expletive is Rarely Deleted Anymore, C
Mar. 29, 2006, available at http://dispatch.com/national-story.php?story=dispatch/2006/03
See Doug Thompson, Bush’s Obscene Tirades Rattle White House Aides,
http://www.portland.indymedia.org/en/2005/08/323576.shtml (Aug. 25, 2005) (detailing
President Bush’s use of “who gives a flying fuck” and “go fuck yourself”).
See supra note 46 and accompanying text (describing Dick Cheney telling Patrick Leahy to
fuck himself). Historically, public figures, like the rest of us, have used the word. See, e.g.,
TvWiki: The Free Encyclopedia, Fuck, http://www.tvwiki.tv/wiki/Fuck (last visited Nov. 13,
2006) (describing Prince of Wales Albert Edward’s exclamation, “Fuck it, I’ve taken a bullet”
after being shot at a Brussels train station in 1900).
(Universal Pictures 2004) is the sequel to M
(Universal Pictures 2000). The running joke in both movies is the similarity between the
protagonist’s last name “Focker” and fucker.
Such was the plight of Lorrie Heasley. In October 2005, she was flying Southwest Airlines
from Los Angeles to Portland and wanted to give her Democratic parents a laugh by wearing the
t-shirt. See Todd Murphy, Clothes Call, P
., Oct. 7, 2005, available at
http://www.portlandtribune.com/news/story.php?story_id=32068 (quoting Harbin); see also
Michelle O’Donnell, Passengers Check Your T-Shirt Before Boarding, N.Y.
, Oct. 9, 2005,
§ 4, at 14. Some passengers complained to the flight attendants who asked Heasley to change,
turn the shirt inside out, or leave the plane at a stop in Reno, Nevada. On the promise of a refund,
Heasley got off the plane, but Southwest Airlines reportedly reneged on the refund offer.
Murphy, supra. Southwest spokesperson Beth Harbin explained: “We support free speech. But
when it comes down to things that are patently offensive or threatening or profanity or just lewd
then we do have to get involved in that.” Harbin claimed that Southwest’s contract of carriage
specifies that passengers can be banned for wearing clothing that is “lewd, obscene or patently
offensive.” Harbin punctuated the fear: “The basis for our concerns was the actual word used.”
136 (1962); Rei R. Noguchi, On the
Historical Longevity of One Four-Letter Word: The Interplay of Phonology and Semantics, in 12
, supra note 27, at 29, 29; see A. Ross Eckler, A Taxonomy for Taboo-Word Studies,
in 9 M
201, 201 (Reinhold Aman ed., 1986-87) (“Taboo words: nearly everybody from
the age of ten onward knows what they are . . . .”).
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the realm of psychoanalysts, linguists, and sociologists. The answer lies
Just as trying to piece together the etymology of fuck is hampered
by its conscious exclusion from dictionaries, understanding taboo
language is hindered by taboo itself. In other words, taboo speech is so
taboo that it hasn’t been regarded as a legitimate topic for scholarship.
Saying fuck is a cultural taboo; studying fuck is a scholarly taboo. This
failure only serves to perpetuate and strengthen taboo within the culture.
It’s therefore not surprising that a variety of labels exist for what one is
studying when one focuses on the use of words like fuck : cursing,
swearing, dirty words, profanity, obscenity, and the like.
where meaningful distinctions have been developed, taboo is both
central and common.
A. Understanding Word Taboo
In every culture, there are things that we’re not supposed to do and
things we’re not supposed to say: taboo acts and taboo words.
Sometimes there’s a correlation, such as Western society’s taboos
relating to sex. While sex is not entirely forbidden, it is regulated by a
set of conscious and unconscious rules; given the appropriate time,
place, and person, sex is not taboo.
Incest, however, is taboo—so is
(2000) (noting the absence of scholarship and the relationship to taboo).
at 31 (“Tabooed words are today known as obscene language,
dirty words, four-letter words, and by a variety of other names, some misleading, some
, supra note 71, at 9 (defining cursing as the utterance of emotionally
powerful, offensive words such as fuck); id. at 10 (linking lack of research to difficulty finding
appropriate term for offensive speech); id. at 191 (noting that profanity is a special category of
offensive speech that means to be secular or indifferent to religion as in Holy shit).
For example, swearing is defined as a type of language use in which the expression refers
to something that is taboo in the culture; should not be interpreted literally; and can be used to
express strong emotions. L
, supra note 71, at 193 (“Every culture has domains of thought that are taboo .
Taboos are sanctions on thoughts and behaviors that a society finds too powerful, dangerous, or
mysterious to consider openly.”). While it may be tempting to our modern minds, it is wrong to
place taboo language solely within so-called primitive cultures. Cf. Read, supra note 2, at 266
(finding taboo language present among “savages”—Australian aborigines); A
3-6 (1989) (stating that while all primitive societies
have taboo words, “our own sophisticated, contemporary culture” has forbidden words too).
Similarly, it would be error to think of taboo as a modern social construct. See Read, supra note
2, at 266 (stating verbal taboo is not the product of cultural refinement).
supra note 73, at 55-56.
the word motherfucker.
While some taboo acts have corresponding taboo words, others do
Cannibalism is one of our taboo acts. However, there are no
unprintable English words—taboo words—referring to cannibalism.
There are also purely linguistic taboos. For example, Thai speakers in
an English environment do not use certain Thai words because they
sound like taboo English words, such as the Thai words fâg (sheath),
fág (to hatch), and phríg (chili pepper).
Similarly, Thai speakers avoid
English words, such as yet, that sound similar to taboo Thai words, such
as jéd , a taboo Thai word for sexual intercourse.
The Polynesian word taboo itself has two precisely opposite
meanings: one that is “sacred or consecrated” and the other “impure,
prohibited, dangerous, and disgusting.”
Generally, taboo words fall
into one of these two broad categories.
Due to its sacred nature, the
Hebrews would not say their word for God.
For our Germanic
ancestors, the names of fearsome animals were taboo. Their word for
bear is unknown because it was never recorded.
Similarly, in parts of
West Africa, the word for snake is taboo. The reptile is referred to
euphemistically as a stick or piece of rope.
Taboo words relating to
body functions are also commonplace
—which leads us to fuck .
“In the entire language of proscribed words, from slang to
profanity, from the mildly unclean to the utterly obscene, including
terms relating to concealed parts of the body, to excretion and
excrement as well as to sexuality, one word reigns supreme,
unchallenged in its preeminence.”
Fuck. Nobody really knows
Id. at 55; see J
, supra note 71, at 165 (“Sex is a taboo topic in many cultures, and words
denoting sexual activity become taboo.”). Such a correlation doesn’t always make sense. As one
commentator notes, this would be as if Prohibition banned not only the sale of whiskey, but the
reading of the label as well. A
supra note 73, at 57 (“It is tempting to look at this very simply
and to suggest that, for every behavioral taboo, there will be a taboo word. However, this simple
description seems to be false.”).
Id. at 58.
Id. at 57.
Id. at 58.
at 4. Freud was apparently the first to point out this duality in the
definition of taboo. See D
, supra note 3, at 41.
See Thomas Nunnally, Word Up, Word Down, N
F., Spring 1995, at 36 (“All societies,
it would seem, proscribe, or place a taboo upon, the unrestricted use of certain words, such as
those relating to the sacred and to certain body functions and body parts.”).
, supra note 3, at 43.
at 9 (“Basically, we notice that dirty words always refer to parts of
the body, secretions, or behavior patterns that arouse sexual desire.”).
supra note 70, at 136. Sagarin’s prose is delightful: “It sits upon a throne, an
absolute monarch, unafraid of any princely offspring still unborn, and by its subjects it is hated,
feared, revered and loved, known by all and recognized by none.” Id. Richard Dooling also
creates a vivid image of the offensiveness of fuck: “[T]he f-word plays upon our sensibilities like
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whether fuck is taboo because it falls into the category of “sacred and
consecrated” or “prohibited and disgusting.”
Nonetheless, the fact
that the earliest recorded use of the word from the fifteenth century was
in code indicates that fuck has been taboo for a very long time.
B. Psycholinguistics and Fuck
An understanding of fuck as taboo language begins with Columbia
University English Professor Allen Walker Read’s groundbreaking
work in 1934. Read combined both linguistic and psychoanalytic
principles to understand the nature of obscenity in general and the taboo
status of fuck in particular. He viewed obscenity as a symbolic
construct: “obscenity lies not in words or things, but in attitudes that
people have towards these words and things.”
The deep psychological
motivation for taboo, according to Read, “probably has its roots in the
fear of the mysterious power of the sex impulse.”
man found that the force of passion could so disorder life, he hedged it
The taboo persists because there is an emotional
reaction, or “fearful thrill,” that generates from speaking the forbidden
If you use the word to insult someone or to feel the thrill of
doing something that is forbidden, you are actually observing the taboo;
this is often labeled as “inverted taboo.”
Thus, the taboo word is
perpetuated through both its use and nonuse.
It took twenty years before another psycholinguist, Dr. Leo Stone,
returned to the study of fuck . With his inquiry, all the tools of
psychoanalysis were brought to bear on the taboo word. To Stone, the
application of psychoanalysis to fuck was natural: “Since language is
the chief instrument of psycho-analysis, and sex a major field of its
scientific and therapeutic interest, the investigation of an obscene word
would seem a natural psycho-analytic undertaking . . . .”
article was in response to one patient’s persistent use of the word fuck
during analysis sessions.
Determined to better understand both his
a meat cleaver scoring a harpsichord.” D
, supra note 3, at 45.
, supra note 3, at 42.
See supra note 24 and accompanying text (describing the earliest use).
Read, supra note 2, at 264. Read’s definition of obscenity differs greatly from the legally
constructed definition familiar to students of the First Amendment best articulated in Miller v.
California, 413 U.S. 15 (1973). See infra notes 151-153 and accompanying text (discussing
Miller and obscenity).
Read, supra note 2, at 266.
Id. at 266-67.
Id. at 264.
Id. at 274.
Stone, supra note 3, at 30.
Stone describes the clinical experience as follows:
patient’s use and the taboo status of fuck, Stone provides both an
encyclopedic narrative of the history and etymology of fuck and his own
theory explaining its use. Stone concluded that
[b]ased on inferences from clinical observation, the opinion is
established that the important and taboo English word ‘fuck’ bears at
least an unconscious rhyme relation . . . to the word ‘suck’ within the
framework of considerations that determine the general phenomenon
of obscenity, including the anal emissive pleasure in speech.”
Thus Stone “developed the preliminary idea that the rhyme with the
word ‘suck’ might have been an important unconscious determinant in
the linguistic fixation and taboo of our word in general usage . . . .”
Whether you are willing to fully embrace Read or Stone’s
hypotheses or not, these early psycholinguists provide us with two keen
insights. First, fuck persists not in spite of taboo, but because of it. As
Read aptly put: “A word is obscene not because the thing named is
obscene, but because the speaker or hearer regards it, owing to the
interference of a taboo, with a sneaking, shame-faced, psychopathic
Having set aside the word fuck as an obscenity symbol, we
work hard to maintain the sacredness of the symbol.
This is done
primarily by implanting the taboo in our children. Children are taught a
language of discourse—“this is a cat” and “this is a tree.” However,
they are not offered the words to describe sex.
A split world remains:
“a world of things with legitimate official names” and a world of
The second contribution of the psycholinguists is that fuck is taboo
because of our buried, subconscious feelings about sex. Read held this
belief and more recent commentators, like Richard Dooling, concur:
Perhaps, as Read suggests, we carefully and subconsciously gather
all the indelicate and unseemly associations we have with the brute
Mary S., married, usually in sudden pauses of her free association, would state that
there came to her mind, without affect or impulse, the phrase “I want to fuck the
analyst.” This was usually entirely out of context, at first gave rise to mild
conventional embarrassment, and later came to be reported with slight bored irritation
as a sort of recrudescent mild nuisance.
Id. at 32.
Id. at 53.
Id. at 35. While paying deference to the early work of Stone, Richard Dooling criticizes
both the ultimate conclusion that fuck and suck are related, as well as Stone’s potential naiveté
concerning his patient’s proclivity to say “I want to fuck the analyst.” See D
, supra note
3, at 47-51.
Read, supra note 2, at 277; see D
, supra note 3, at 45 (“It’s vulgar, that’s all,
because we have made it so.”).
Read, supra note 2, at 267.
see Read supra note 2, at 266.
, supra note 15, at 19 (“If you were brought
up in America, you no sooner learned the word fuck than you learned you were not allowed to use
it.”). In this sense, what is taboo is out of the speaker’s control because taboo is culturally
, supra note 71, at 153.
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act of reproduction, incest, sex outside of marriage, sex without love,
selfish sex, child sexual abuse, fatal venereal diseases—and assign
them all to a single unspeakable word. When the word is uttered, it
stirs up all these unconscious, unspeakable aspects of sexual
congress, which we don’t like to think about because they threaten
the social order in a terrifying way.
Even if you do not find Stone’s fuck /suck hypothesis compelling,
the psychoanalytic link to sex he espouses is widely accepted. It finds
expression in those researchers who explain fuck ’s taboo status as a
reflection of the Oedipus complex.
According to Dr. Ariel Arango in
his book Dirty Words: Psychoanalytic Insights,
“the ‘dirty’ word, to
fuck, always means, at root, to fuck one’s mother; to go back to her
womb. Such is the universal Oedipus longing.”
Everyday use of the
word would awaken the “sleeping dogs” among fathers and sons.
Therefore, a ban on the word fuck is essential to bury the universal
The importance of psychoanalysis to an understanding of fuck is
not to the exclusion of other disciplines. Etymologists provide us with a
valuable historical account of usage and taboo.
Linguists point out
that the phonological pattern of consonant+vowel+hard
consonant+consonant may explain why fuck survived while sixteenth
century contemporaries like swive and jape did not.
the cultural influences on offensive speech. For example, use of fuck
may be appropriate for some contexts (like a dorm room) but not others
(like the Dean’s office).
Still other social scientists search for an
integrated theory to explain fuck .
Despite these contributions,
psycholinguistics offers the fullest explanation of fuck as taboo, as well
as an insight into how to counteract its effects.
C. Effects of Taboo
Word taboo is irrational.
Consider the example of the West
, supra note 3, at 46; see J
, supra note 71, at 153 (explaining that there is no
freedom of speech where sex is concerned due to cultural taboo).
at 183 (“[A]ll obscene words stimulate, or threaten to
stimulate, reminiscences of incestuous anguish and pleasures.”).
See supra Part II.A (etymology).
See Noguchi, supra note 70, at 38-40 (1996) (explaining fuck’s longevity over its rivals
based upon its phonological pattern CV(C)C).
, supra note 71, at 148.
See generally J
, supra note 71, at 10 (developing the NPS or neurological,
psychological, and social theory of cursing).
, supra note 74, at 4 (“We accept the banning of certain actions, but not a ban
African taboo against snakes. I suspect few among us, especially those
with a genuine fear of them, would find it rational behavior to yell
“rope” or “stick” when a snake approached.
Such a practice is so far
removed from our experience that we tend to even associate the concept
of taboo with so-called primitive cultures.
Similarly, it is one thing to
ban certain acts; as a society we are probably better off.
proscribe naming those same acts makes no sense. As Harvard
psychology professor Steven Pinker states, “the psychology of taboo is
incompatible with the ideal of scholarship, which is that any idea is
worth thinking about, if only to determine whether it is wrong.”
that is precisely what we do.
Psycholinguistics provides the insight into the way we react to the
taboo nature of fuck . Emerging from an unhealthy attitude about sex,
fuck is an example of what Read calls a “word fetish.”
emotional response to the word only serves to perpetuate negative
attitudes toward sex. In the case of fuck , its taboo status is due to
subconscious sexual fears—unhealthy feelings about sex that are
reinforced and exacerbated by the continuing word taboo. The taboo is
so strong many engage in individual self-censorship.
Some overzealous adherents of word taboo are not content to limit
themselves to self-censorship. They want to extend their own sense of
“good words” and “bad words” to limit the use of fuck by others—and
not just the sexual meaning of Fuck
. The fuck word fetish is so intense
that all uses of the word, including nonsexual Fuck
, are often targets of
on naming them.”). But see Steven Pinker, The Science of Difference: Sex Ed, N
Feb. 14, 2005, at 15, available at http://pinker.wjh.harvard.edu/articles/media/2005_02
_14_newrepublic.html (“The psychology of taboo is not completely irrational. In maintaining our
most precious relationships, it is not enough to say and do the right thing. We have to show that
our heart is in the right place and that we don’t weigh the costs and benefits of selling out those
who trust us. If someone offers to buy your child or your spouse or your vote, the appropriate
response is not to think it over or to ask how much. The appropriate response is to refuse even to
consider the possibility. Anything less emphatic would betray the awful truth that you don’t
understand what it means to be a genuine parent or spouse or citizen.”).
See supra note 75 and accompanying text (discussing snake taboo).
See Naoki Onishi, The Puritan Origins of American Taboo, 10 J
33, 35 (1999), available at http://wwwsoc.nii.ac.jp/jaas/periodicals/JJAS/PDF/1999/
No.10-033.pdf (“Taboo was a term, therefore, to signify some primitive custom of other culture,
which looks irrational and strange from the view point of a civilized standard.”).
In this context, consider NAMBLA, the North American Man/Boy Love Association.
NAMBLA’s stated goal is “to end the extreme oppression of men and boys in mutually
consensual relationships by: building understanding and support for such relationships [and]
educating the general public on the benevolent nature of man/boy love . . . .” An Introduction to
NAMBLA, Who We Are, http://184.108.40.206/welcome.htm (last visited Nov. 12, 2006).
Irrespective of my position on free speech, I see wisdom in criminalizing the act of child sexual
abuse. However, NAMBLA and its members certainly have a protected speech right in providing
factual information to “help educate society about the positive and beneficial nature of man/boy
Pinker, supra note 111.
See Allen Walker Read, Introduction to S
supra note 70, at 9, 9-10 (1962).
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The taboo effect is institutionalized when offensive
language leads to legal prosecutions or censorship. An understanding of
the intersection of fuck and the law must begin with an appreciation for
our individual reactions to taboo.
There are those who actively support the taboo. This includes
those who engage in individual self-censorship and refrain from saying
fuck because of the taboo, as well as those who deliberately use fuck
because of the emotional thrill it generates (inverted taboo). Other
forms of deliberate silence can also abet the taboo.
Even those of us
with the tools to understand the taboo effect often capitulate. For
example, teachers who avoid using shocking words in the classroom
when the topic involves speech certainly perpetuate taboo, as well as
shirk their pedagogical responsibilities.
How can you teach the
“Fuck the Draft” case
without using the word? But there are those
To be sure there are also those who consciously choose not to use
the word fuck because they do not want to convey any of its meanings
or the emotions that go with the word. This seems more a matter of
diction than taboo. It is irrational, however, to want to convey one of
fuck’s meanings and then choose not to because of word taboo. Enter
A corollary of self-censorship is the use of euphemisms. The “f-
word” surely is our most common fuck euphemism. Presumably, it
allows the speaker to both communicate the precise word intended,
while at the same time conforming to the cultural taboo. This just
Everyone versed in the English language immediately
See discussion infra Part IV.B.2
Read, supra note 2, at 277.
See Levinson, supra note 1, at 1360 (noting pedagogical responsibility).
Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15 (1971).
Professor Levinson recounts with disappointment an anecdote about a former student of his
who, while teaching government to undergraduates at The University of Texas, taught Cohen
using the f-word euphemism. Levinson, supra note 1, at 1384. If it is any consolation, my use of
fuck in this piece alone will surely help restore balance to the use of the word in academia.
Kudos to Fred Shapiro who entitled his article on the value of electronic research in
historical lexicography—The Politically Correct United States Supreme Court and the
Motherfucking Texas Court of Criminal Appeals: Using Legal Databases to Trace the Origins of
Words and Quotations. Shaprio, supra note 23, at 367. In contrast, shame on Professor Robert
Blomquist’s capitulation to euphemism entitled The F-Word: A Jurisprudential Taxonomy of
American Morals (in a Nutshell), 40 S
65 (1999). Blomquist uses the f-
word euphemism in place of fuck when he writes, but ironically uses fuck when citing what others
have written. See, e.g., id. at 68-69.
If one needs support for my “f-word is silly” argument, go no further than the recent oral
argument before a panel of the Second Circuit in Fox Television Stations v. FCC, 06-1760ag (2d
Cir. Dec. 20, 2006) (oral argument). Carter Phillips, counsel for Fox Television, opened oral
argument with the following statement:
In 2002, the renowned actress and singer, Cher, responded to her critics in a television
show by saying “fuck em.” In 2003, Nicole Ritchie who is an actress commented on
knows that the f-word is fuck . In fact, if the meaning weren’t universal
the euphemism wouldn’t work. So why would anyone choose “the f-
word?” One possibility is that it allows the user to identify the word
used without emoting the hostility that Fuck
often contains. However,
such a quoting use would already make clear that the words were
attributable to someone else. Any reasonable person wouldn’t hold the
quoter accountable for the speaker’s emotions. Philip Thody offers
another explanation in his book Don’t Do It: A Dictionary of the
Forbidden: “By forbidding certain actions in which other people too
readily indulge, we show that we are not as others are. . . . By not using
certain words, we show that we are a class above some of our fellows,
as well as in a class apart.”
From this perspective, using the f-word
instead of fuck doesn’t show that one is better mannered.
of the euphemism is to differentiate class and reinforce a linguistic
superiority over others. Those who give in to the pressure of taboo not
only serve to reinforce it, but also empower the self-appointed guardians
of speech to restrict fuck ’s use by others.
I’m not talking about real
“speech police” (the FCC), but ordinary citizens or private businesses
that want to impose their version of what is appropriate speech on
others. The complaining passengers, flight attendants, and Southwest
officials who combined to eject the woman wearing the “Meet the
Fuckers” t-shirt from her flight all create a classic example of moralists
overstepping their bounds.
Popular music has also been a fertile ground for this type of
vigilante censorship. The quintessential punk group the Sex Pistols felt
her own television show which is entitled The Simple Life by saying it was hardly all
that simple because does any body know how hard it is to get, how “fuckin” hard it is
to get cow shit out of a Prada purse.
Phillips continued to use fuck, motherfucker, and shit throughout his argument. The panel
members also used the words, not euphemisms, when asking questions. In stark contrast, the first
words out of FCC counsel Eric Miller’s mouth were: “All that is before the court here is two
adjudications. In both of these cases the Fox television network broadcast the f-word on prime
time television.” Given that the court and opposing counsel all used the specific words in
question, Miller’s use of the f-word sounds silly. You can judge for yourself by viewing the oral
argument that C-SPAN broadcast live. See Second Circuit Court of Appeals Oral Argument: Fox
Television v. FCC (Dec. 20, 2006), available at http://www.iptablog.org/2006/12/27/fox_
ICTIONARY OF THE
Being well-mannered is often described as not saying things in public that one wouldn’t
say in front of the parents or grandparents. See Levinson, supra note 1, at 1384. This, of course,
is merely another way of describing how taboo is passed from one generation to the next.
See Read, supra note 116, at 10 (describing the way “respectable” society members try to
enforce the taboo).
See supra notes 68-69 and accompanying text (describing the incident). Almost daily, I
encounter invisible others trying to control my use of language through email. The Eudora email
program rates the use of fuck with its highest “three chili pepper” rating and a juvenile attempt at
a humorous message: “Your message . . . is the sort of thing that might get your keyboard washed
out with soap, if you get my drift. You might consider toning it down.” Still, the intent is to
make me engage in self-censorship.
CARDOZO LAW REVIEW
the censorship of others as record labels played “hot potato” with them
over the lyrics to their songs in the late 1970s.
In 1984, the Dicks
released a 7” record (back in the days of vinyl) entitled “Peace?” that
included the song “No Fuckin’ War.”
However, the company that
printed the record jacket was offended and blacked-out “Fuckin” from
the cover leaving only “No ______ War.”
Recently, some radio
stations took self-censorship one more step by banning the pop group
Black-Eyed Peas’ hit, “Don’t Phunk with my Heart,” apparently in an
attempt to eliminate even euphemisms for fuck .
The music industry’s
concern over fuck in lyrics could also be due to fear of institutionalized
Institutionalized taboo takes many forms. State anti-obscenity
statutes, like the archaic one from Michigan used against Timothy
Boomer, are examples.
There are federal statutes, such as Title VII,
designed for different purposes, that are being used to clean up
There are even institutional organizations, like
the FCC, that are used for censorship in this country.
However, all of
these manifestations of institutionalized taboo are empowered by our
Supreme Court—a Court constrained by the effects of taboo. The
resulting fuck jurisprudence is characterized by inconsistent treatment of
fuck, unnecessary conflicts, and uncertainties.
Offensive band names were rare until the late 1970s and the Sex Pistols formed with the
explicit goal to offend the public. Joe Salmons & Monica Macaulay, Offensive Rock Band
Names: A Linguistic Taxonomy, in 10 M
, supra note 54, at 81, 82.
No Fuckin’ War, on P
? (R Radical Records 1984). In their taxonomy of
offensive alternative rock band names, Salmons and Macaulay classify the Dicks as a “taboo band
name” in the category of Sex, subdivision Genitalia. See Salmons & Macaulay, supra note 127,
Both the lyrics sheet and the label of the record include Fuckin’; only the jacket is
censored. Ironically, fear of censorship by alternative rock bands can lead to self-censorship. See
Salmons & Macaulay, supra note 127, at 91 (“In order to avoid even more censorship than they
would already encounter, several bands have used asterisks for vowels in particularly taboo words
(C*nts, Sic F*cks). Similarly, some taboo words occur with non-standard orthography
(Scumfucks) and a few other groups have chosen euphemistic forms (FU’s, F-word ).”). In the
universe of taboo band names, “[n]otice the predominance of fuck over all other vulgarities.” Id.
See Thor Christensen, Hot Corner, D
, June 16, 2005, at 12E
(describing censorship of the song). The song was replaced by another version entitled “Don’t
Mess with My Heart.” Id.
See supra notes 7-10 and accompanying text.
See infra Part IV.C.
See infra Part IV.B.
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