Watch your language lasses and laddies, or it could cost you. Language, a form of free expression is under attack. The issue is offensive language in the public square, in sports, and in social media, to name a few. Offensive language includes swear words, profanity, hard language, inappropriate phrases and expression. The Oxford Dictionary further defines offensive language as an act causing someone to feel resentful, upset, or annoyed.
Apparently, many people are resentful, upset, and annoyed both at home in the UK and abroad. An MP accused a football club in Manchester of “upsetting the neighbors with noise, disruption and foul language” (BBC News, 19 Sept 2012). In August, The Football Association fined a player £45,000 for comments on Twitter when he called someone a choc ice, a term considered to have negative racial overtones. And last year, Barnsley decided to impose on the spot fines for abusive language in the town square up to £80. People are asked to report offenders to make the market more attractive to shoppers. It is not illegal to swear in public, but the use of abusive or aggressive language is prohibited. The town is slated for future development and the plan is to clean up the town and its language.
Outside of the UK, the mayor of Brussels is annoyed. He wants to “crack down on the unpleasantness found in large cities”. Sofie Peeters, a student filmmaker, documented on hidden camera “cat-calling, unsolicited advances and misogynistic defamations …eight to 10 times a day.” The mayor’s personal spokesman quoted him as saying, “Any form of insult is from now on punishable, whether it be racist, homophobic or otherwise” (International Times, 4 Sept 2012). Offensive language could bring a fine of up to $250. The trend has spread to America where a citizen in Middleborough, Massachusetts can be fined $20.00 for cursing in public.
So, who determines what is offensive language? What about physical gestures? The French, Americans, and the British all have their own version of the middle finger insult, and bloody is a description of an injury in America with a very different meaning in the UK. Is language protected speech, or should we fine people to protect young ears, traditional sensibilities and commerce? What do you say? Mind your language now.