Brit Language: Watch Your Language Laddies!

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.



  1. avatarBrittany says

    I don’t know about others, but I definitely don’t want to hear curse words and racial slurs anywhere. There’s no place for that type of language.

    • avatarCrystal says

      I am not condoning offensive language or racial slurs. My only concern is government involvement in speech, and I think it is something that should be discussed. This is a real problem, but I’m not sure fines are the best way to handle it. We need a return to civility.

    • avatarCindy says

      I completely agree. I work in public school education at the elementary level, grades K -5.
      It used to be that no staff members or students would ever swear. Now, foul language is used often by adults in the staff room and at meetings, and by students in the cafeteria, on the playground, even in the classrooms. Furthermore, I overhear all sorts of profanity in grocery stores, libraries, restaurants, airports, parks and recreational places. Does civility and polite conversation have any chance of a come back without legislation?

  2. avatarCarrie says

    Unfortunately I love to use cuss words. However, in public I refrain, there are usually children. Allowing government permission to take control over speach would be giving away the very freedom our military ancestors dief for. It’s just wrong morally and ethically wrong.

  3. avatar says

    Along with the idea itself being slightly offensive to an American (because of our First Amendment), legislation of offensive speech would never work anyway.

    I remember something I read about fashion once. A few hundred years ago In some European country, only the royalty were allowed to wear purple. Unauthorized purple wearers would be fined. What happened? Wealthy people wore purple anyway because they wanted to be perceived as higher status, and just paid the fines.

    A cultural shift is the only thing that will work in regulating any behavior of citizens. Once enough people feel shame for a behavior, therefore having it affect their perceived social status, the overall behavior will change.

    I work with children for a living, and I run into this all the time. People often let loose with their language and behavior at a party and forget the 5 year old standing right next to them. (Yes, even at a children’s party.) A look from their neighbors is usually enough to temporarily quiet them.

    What really tickles me about this subject, though, is what children themselves think is offensive. Try saying the word “stupid” in front of an elementary school kid, and watch their eyebrows shoot up in surprise!

  4. avatarNick says

    Cursing is an expression of emotion! Some of it very EMOTIONAL. In civilised, intelligent public conversation swearing is very seldom heard! (“Public” excludes places of alcoholic intoxication where cursing is apparently obligatory to many) Although in the workplace (with no minors present, so that excludes schools and Kindergartens) the expression “Swearing like a trooper” is often heard! Recently a fellow English person (senior manager) expressed how a supplier was irritating her… “Your getting right on my T*Ts now” she said … her fellow colleagues looked around in shock and said.. “are you allowed to say “T*Ts” … really ?”) It has been part of life for generations, and whilst we strive for more civilised repertoire however somehow I think it may me many generations (if ever) before it is eradicated!
    PS We ALL agree with Cindy … It should never be used … EVER!

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