On our way back from a little trip out of the city last night, we talked at some length about appropriate and inappropriate words to use on the air.
I used the word “fart” during a spontaneous live discussion while I was filling in for McArthur last week. One listener laughingly wrote to say they almost drove off the road when they heard it! I wasn’t using it as a verb; I was telling Nicky, the newscaster who is about two decades my junior, that it was OK to call me an “old fart” when we were good naturedly disagreeing about something or other! (For the record, she declined!)
I come from an era of euphemisms. A fart – the emission of air – was a “fluff” and various body parts were given cutesy names that belied their position, form or function. It was the way it was in my friends’ families too, a holdover from the ’50’s when you hid realities away in your Leave It To Beaver world. (Although, no one really had a Leave It To Beaver World, but everyone was supposed to think YOU did!)
Times have certainly changed. The most terrible swear word of all, the one I would never, ever call any woman or even likely dream of saying out loud in mixed company popped out of the mouth of a young male colleague the other day in casual conversation. He didn’t seem to think much of it as I tried to keep my eyebrows from shooting straight up to the ceiling. Saying that word on air would mean immediate dismissal and off air is just simply rude and obnoxious but it appears to have been a one-time incident and, hey, I’m not going to freak out over it. It’s not as if it was directed at me!
I’ve had discussions with broadcasting colleagues about the appropriateness of using the words crap and sucks. I don’t say “sucks” but it’s only because it’s not in my lexicon due to its original connotation. I have said “crap” but only sparingly and when it will have great impact. For example, I recently delivered a lousy weekend forecast this way: “Tomorrow, crap followed by more crap and then a 60 percent chance of crap overnight. Sunday, a 100 percent chance it will be all crap, all day long!”
So what do you do when Hollywood releases a film called Inglorious Basterds? Well, on my station, you say it or you don’t say it at all. But on family friendly stations, one in particular, they’re changing it to Bad Guys. Think of it from the host’s point of view: saying “Basterds” on the air doesn’t let the people know that it’s a Nazi tale whose title has a deliberate spelling error in it. It sounds like a word you wouldn’t want your kids to hear so it’s entirely appropriate to alter it.
So where should we draw the line? Well, we don’t really know until we cross it. I never aim to offend so I try to stay on the cautious side of things. However, I like to call a spade a spade and if it’s an old fart, well, I’m going to call it that too!