The Supreme Court is debating the f-word. You know–that one. No, not “flag”. No, not “founding fathers.” No, not “freedom” either. Yeah. That one. And since they couldn’t say it, I won’t say it either… not until the next parapraph.
The problem at hand is the use of swear words as “fleeting expletives” — that is, the utterance of words that are graphic or sexual but used in a way that is devoid of their meaning. An example of this type of language came from Bono’s 2003 Golden Globe acceptance speech in which he said it was “fucking brilliant.” The court wondered if that sort of usage might lead to a character from a children’s program (for literary sake let’s say Elmo) describing how he might “fuck the shit out of someone” (for example, Abby Cadabby.)
Presumably it’s OK for Bono to say it because, well, he’s totally awesome and has done more for the world than Ghandi, Mother Theresa, and Mr. Rogers combined. Oh, and his usage is completely devoid of sexual content. On the other hand, it would be wrong for Elmo to say it because he’s a foul mouthed, syphilitic, drug addict. And since his intent behind use of the word “fuck” is clearly carnal, that has to be the difference, right? Because it is the same word in either case… right?
Well, just so you know that your Supreme Court justices are on the ball. Take a look at this fucking awesome banter:
“Why do you think the F-word has shocking value?” Roberts asked rhetorically. “It’s because it’s associated with sexual or excretory activity; that’s what gives it its force.”
Excretory? Um, well OK Justice Roberts, we know how you roll.
Added Scalia, “That’s what gives it its’ zing.”
Really, what is a at stake here are the usual puritanical interests obsessesd with the slippery slope — queue visions of Elmo raping old ladies on the street and (this is really a quote from the case) “Big Bird dropping the F-bomb on Sesame Street.”
Now before you go out and start picketing Elmo dolls at K&B Toys, check out this Steven Pinker article from the Atlantic.
…over time, taboo words relinquish their literal meanings and retain only a coloring of emotion, and then just an ability to arouse attention. This progression explains why many speakers are unaware that sucker, sucks, bites, and blows originally referred to fellatio, or that a jerk was a masturbator. It explains why Close the fucking door,What the fuck?, Holy Fuck!, and Fuck you! violate all rules of English syntax and semantics—they presumably replaced Close the damned door, What in Hell?, Holy Mary!, and Damn you! when religious profanity lost its zing and new words had to be recruited to wake listeners up.
That is what the Supreme Court is faced with deciding.
Late Breaking Edit: Check out this youtubery from the TV.