In 1972, comedian George Carlin gave a monologue titled “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” that identified seven dirty words that were too taboo to share on American broadcasts. In February of 2016, one of those seven words was said on “American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson” on the FX Network, breaking a major television barrier.
Surprisingly, this did not violate the Federal Communications Commissions (FCC) regulations, because FX Network is cable, not a broadcast network. Cable channels have self-regulated content and aren’t required to follow the FCC decency guidelines that broadcast networks like CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox must follow.
Nearly 45 years later, the seven dirty words no longer seem to hold as strong of an impact, though as viewers of FX were surprised, it wasn’t anything people had never heard before. Even when I was a child, curse words had a “shock value,” and hearing anyone say them was like a nuclear bomb going off. When I was in fourth grade, a classmate dropped the f-bomb, and we all rushed to tattle to the nearest adult. Now, walking through campus I hear the f-bomb almost as much as any other “curse word,” and it no longer rings in my ears.
What was once a slew of slanderous words to offend someone is now a collection of casual filler words, as common in any sentence as words that aren’t considered “curse words.” Do they still have a shock value? Absolutely not. I’ll be the first to admit that I drop words I was never allowed to say as a child when I’m driving and someone cuts me off, or when I leave my apartment in the morning and park on campus, running late already, and then realize I left something at home. Granted, they’re not any of the seven dirty words, but they are words my mom gets after me about saying. It just feels so casual, and everyone around me everywhere says them.
But the other day, as I was merging onto Interstate 35, I encountered a driver who was on my tail and nearly ended up in my back seat when everyone in front of me slammed on the breaks. I had a friend in my car and I said, “If this a-hole hits me, I’m not going to be happy.” She scolded me and said I need to stop, especially because my Lenten goal is to use nicer words. My defense was, “It’s not like you’ve never heard it before.” But then, that night I FaceTimed my family and told my mom about the experience, and my brothers laughed because I said a “bad word.” My mom said, “Yeah, Megan seems to think that’s not so awful anymore.” I realized sitting there that I had fallen victim to the “curse word” epidemic that has taken over society.
Over the past 45 years since Carlin’s monologue, society has changed quite a bit, as evidenced by the words that no longer are considered taboo outside of my family. Some friends say that my encounter on the highway was no big deal because that word is in the Bible. But in my family, that type of insult isn’t encouraged. In this progressive society, what is considered a curse word — Especially considering those seven dirty words aren’t even earth-shattering anymore? I don’t think there’s a standard definition of “curse words” as times have changed so much. However, there is a part of me that fears whether Big Bird will soon get in a fight with Mr. Snuffleupagus and call him an a-hole too.