The most unacceptable words and phrases for television

September 10th, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The BSA has done a survey on what words or phrases people would find acceptable on free to air television at 8.30 pm. The 31 phrases tested, and proportions finding them unacceptable are:

  1. Cunt 70% (-9%)
  2. Nigger 65% (-7%)
  3. Jesus Fucking Christ 61% (-4%)
  4. Mother fucker 61% (-17%)
  5. Cocksucker 56% (-8%)
  6. Get fucked 54%(-1%)
  7. Fuck off 50% (-2%)
  8. Fuck 50% (-19%)
  9. Faggot 48% (+2%)
  10. Slut 43% (nc)
  11. Whore 43% (-12%)
  12. Cock 42% (-16%)
  13. Retard 41% (-3%)
  14. Wanker 39% (-9%)
  15. Arsehole 37% (-12%)
  16. Jesus Christ 33% (-8%)
  17. Dick 32% (-8%)
  18. Jesus 30% (+3%)
  19. Piss 29% (-9%)
  20. Bitch 28% (-14%)
  21. Prick 28% (-15%)
  22. God 27% (-7%)
  23. Piss off 27% (+3%)
  24. Bastards 26% (-10%)
  25. Balls 24% (-9%)
  26. Shit 23% (-8%)
  27. Bullshit 20% (-8%)
  28. Crap 17% (-6%)
  29. Bloody 15% (-2%)
  30. Bollocks 13% (-7%)
  31. Bugger 13% -3%)

The figures in brackets are the change in unacceptability from the 1999 survey (or 2009 for some newer phrases).

Only the first two words would cause me a bit of shock if used on television.

Also of interest is the other words or phrases some respondents offered as unacceptable:

  • Pommy bastard
  • Being Jewish (tight with money)
  • Hua Slimy Mongrel
  • Nignog
  • Milf
  • Cock-tease
  • Cuntface
  • Frogface
  • Tea bagging
  • Fucktard

Fucktard is a great word!

  • Ginga
  • Muptard (combination of “muppet” and “retard”)

Also a great word!

  • Dog bangger
  • Whitee wifee

Not heard that one!

This would be a nice test for the BSA

June 14th, 2010 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

A 13 year old uses the c word twice on television. But not in an offensive way – she was repeating a text sent between two teenagers (one of whom was her best friend) where she called him a rapist and he called her the c word. The TV presenter I thought handled it very well and said we need to be careful of language but says that’s all right sweetheart.

While such language is not generally allowed on free to air television, I don’t see that the network could do much about it. I do wonder what would the BSA do, if this happened in NZ.

What is perhaps surprising, is that the 13 year old didn’t think not to say the word on air. It indicates perhaps that it doesn’t have a lot of shock value to that generation. Or it might just be that she was being literal in referring to the content of the e-mails.

Hat Tip: Murray Report

The Herald and swearing

April 19th, 2010 at 12:13 pm by David Farrar

A while back the Herald reported:

When is a swear word not a swear word?

When it is used on the Hollywood red carpet, says TVNZ.

Close-Up presenter Mark Sainsbury raised the question when he used the word “fugly” in a promotion for his show during Wednesday’s 6pm news. …

The utterance on prime-time television has prompted queries to the Broadcasting Standards Authority.

But TVNZ says the word has become so popular it has lost its original sting and become a new term.

“Whilst a long time ago it might have been short for … two words … it is now being used regularly, particularly in entertainment circles, as simply an adjective. For example it is being used to describe an attitude or a dress,” said TVNZ news spokeswoman Andi Brotherston. …

Broadcasting Standards Authority chief executive Dominic Sheehan said the authority was flooded with hundreds of emails and phone calls after Mr Henry’s “retarded” comment, whereas “fugly” generated only two inquiries on Thursday.

People who contacted the authority to complain were told they needed to go through TVNZ’s internal complaints process first.

Mr Sheehan said “fugly” was not on the list of offensive words that were gathered in a recent survey of 1500 people, despite being commonly used.

“It is not even on anyone’s radar … – and they [survey respondents] have put a lot of words in there,” he said.

But he could not recall “fugly” being used during a news programme.

“This is new territory for us.”

“We haven’t tested the word and we have never had a complaint about it.”

Heh having someone complain about fugly is as amusing to me, as the fact someone complained about the use of the word “frack” on Battlestar Galactica.

I blogged last month the results of a BSA survey on the acceptability of various swear words. This got me wondering how those survey results contrast with actual practices in media newsrooms.

So I e-mailed all major media outlets in NZ, asking them what their editorial policy was on each of the 31 swear words, on the following scale:

  • A This word/phrase would never be used on air/in our newspaper
  • B There are no restrictions on use of this word or phrase
  • C This word/phrase is not banned, but would only be used if essential to a story

Sadly only one media outlet responded. Thanks to the NZ Herald, who did respond, and their responses are below:

1. Cunt Herald: A
2. Nigger Herald: C
3. Mother Fucker Herald: A
4. Jesus Fucking Christ Herald: A
5. Cocksucker Herald: A
6. Get fucked Herald: A
7. Fuck off Herald: A
8. Fuck Herald: A
9. Faggot Herald: B
10. Cock Herald: C
11. Retard Herald: B
12. Slut Herald: C
13. Whore Herald: B
14. Wanker Herald: B
15. Arsehole Herald: C
16. Jesus Christ Herald: C
17. Dick Herald: B
18. Prick Herald: C
19. Jesus Herald: B, but C if used as an expletive
20. Piss Herald: C
21. Bitch Herald: B
22. God Herald: B
23. Piss off Herald: C
24. Bastard Herald: B
25. Shit Herald: C
26. Balls Herald: B
27. Bullshit Herald: C
28. Crap Herald: B
29. Bollocks Herald: B
30. Bloody Herald: B
31. Bugger Herald: B

These are listed in the order of acceptability as the BSA survey found them.

So the Herald has a total ban on seven words or phrases, generally those using the cunt, cock or fuck.

14 of the 31 words have no restriction on their use. Mainly those at the lower end of the scale, but including retard (Paul Henry take note), faggot, whore and wanker. Of course that does not mean they will go out of their way to use them.

10 of the 31 words are in the category of only would be used if essential to a story – that is likely to be direct quotes from some one. This includes nigger, cock, slut, Jesus Christ, and shit.

The Herald also provided a couple of useful examples of when they might go outside their normal policy:

The Herald might allow words such as “fuck” in direct quotes if uttered by, for example, a member of the royal family or the Prime Minister, because that use would, in itself, be newsworthy.

That makes sense to me. John Key had better watch his language then 🙂

In our first reports of 9/11, we allowed the word “fucking” in the front-page lead: “Shortly after the first attack, a person who answered the phone on the trading floor at interdealer-broker Cantor Fitzgerald, near the top of the World Trade Center, said ‘We’re fucking dying,’ when asked what was happening, and hung up.”

Again, I think that is a sensible exception. I doubt anyone would be offended by direct reporting of those quotes, considering the circumstances. They help convey the atmosphere in a way, which asterisks would not have.

It is a shame, other media outlets did not respond. It would be very interesting to compare their different policies. Again my thanks to the Herald for being so open.

Blame Wanda

March 29th, 2010 at 10:25 am by David Farrar

For those who get offended by this post, you should blame Wanda Harland.

After I posted about the 31 swear words that the BSA did research on, to determine acceptability on air, Wanda tweeted:

now try and use them all in one sentence

As friends will testify one of my weaknesses is I am intensively competitive and can never turn down a challenge, whether it be to jump off a roof, or use the 31 most offensive swear words in a sentence.

Now I tried to ignore the challenge, but my mind has a life of its own. Various combinations floated through my head while watching DVDs last night, and today I just had to put pen to paper, so to speak.

The prose below I am sure will not win any literary prizes, but does include the 31 swear words. I cheated a bit by counting the use of Jesus Fucking Christ as also counting for the use of Jesus and Jesus Christ.

To avoid un-necessary offence, the prose is after the break.


Acceptability of Swear Words

March 28th, 2010 at 11:33 am by David Farrar

The BSA has done a survey of what words New Zealanders find unacceptable to use on air.

In order of unacceptability, they are:

  1. Cunt 74%
  2. Nigger 66%
  3. Mother Fucker 66%
  4. Jesus Fucking Christ 65%
  5. Cocksucker 60%
  6. Get fucked 55%
  7. Fuck off 52%
  8. Fuck 51%
  9. Faggot 46%
  10. Cock 46%
  11. Retard 44%
  12. Slut 43%
  13. Whore 40%
  14. Wanker 37%
  15. Arsehole 35%
  16. Jesus Christ 31%
  17. Dick 30%
  18. Prick 27%
  19. Jesus 27%
  20. Piss 26%
  21. Bitch 26%
  22. God 24%
  23. Piss off 24%
  24. Bastard 23%
  25. Shit 22%
  26. Balls 21%
  27. Bullshit 17%
  28. Crap 14%
  29. Bollocks 12%
  30. Bloody 12%
  31. Bugger 11%

This got me wondering where personally I would draw the line. But thinking about it, I wouldn’t have a line.

In the right context, in a program like Californication, on late at night, I’d say all 31 of those words can be acceptable.

But most of the top 21 words I would deem unacceptable on Morning Report on National Radio.

What is also interesting is what words are more acceptable in 2009 than in 1999. The major changes are:

  1. Fuck +19%
  2. Prick +16%
  3. Bitch +16%
  4. Whore +15%
  5. Arsehole +14%
  6. Bastard +13%
  7. Mother Fucker +12%
  8. Cock +12%
  9. Balls +12%
  10. Piss +12%
  11. Wanker +11%
  12. Bullshit +11%

The context of words is also, for me, important. Saying you had a cunt of a day, is different to calling someone a cunt. The fuck word hardly even registers with me, but “fuck you” is usually very offensive.

As a pollster, I note the 2009 poll was done online, and previous ones were done face to face. You have to feel sorry for the polling staff who had to knock on doors and read out a list of swear words and ask people their responses to them 🙂

Incidentally I guess this post will get the blog blocked by many Government Departments for a week or so, as they use swear word filters.

UPDATE: The full results are interesting. It turns out they tested the 31 swear words in 10 different scenarios, being:

  1. People being interviewed or asked to give opinions in news, documentaries and current events programmes on TV or radio
  2. In a television drama screened after 8.30pm (e.g. Grey’s Anatomy, Criminal Minds)
  3. In a television drama or comedy screened between 7pm and 8.30pm (e.g. Shortland Street, Coronation Street, Two and a Half Men)
  4. Comedians in stand-up comedy programmes played on radio or shown on TV after 8.30pm
  5. In a reality television programme where a lot of the content is spontaneous and does not follow a script (e.g. Hell’s Kitchen, Border Patrol, The Apprentice)
  6. In a music video played on television
  7. When used by a caller to a talkback radio station
  8. When used by a radio host on a talkback radio station
  9. When used by a radio host in a breakfast programme
  10. When used in a song played on radio.

Only five words were deemed by a majority to be unacceptable in all 10 scenarios – cunt, nigger, mother fucker, jesus fucking christ and cocksucker.

Only 7% of respondents said “cunt” was acceptable in all 10 scenarios. Even I don’t go that far. I would say “cunt” is acceptable in scenarios 1, 2, 4, 5, 6 and 10 but not 3, 7, 8 and 9.

Four words are deemed to be acceptable by a majority on all 10 scenarios – bugger, bloody, bollocks and crap.

I found amusing on page 31, the list of other words that respondents offered up as unacceptable. They included:

Fuckety fucking fucker

Heh I like that phrase.

Ask Hone Harawira as he seems to have a dictionary of inappropriate words

Heh. Someone also listed John Key as a swear-word.

baldhead (the derogitory term for a white New Zealander)

Is it? Never heard of that one.


Ha. Someone is think skinned.

“Brian Tamaki” Anything Paul Henry Says


Honky, Hairyback, Redneck, Grognard, Nerd, Buttmunch, toerag, Porch monkey, User, American, cheesebucket.

Goodness, that respondents had a long list.

cum oven mcnugget

I can’t work out if the respondents means those words individually are offensive, or as one phrase.

On BattleStar Galatica they use “frackin” or “frack” which means they get to air the programme earlier than 8.30pm. It is obvious that it is just a substitute for the other ‘F’ word and I don’t think it’s acceptable.

Oh what a killjoy, They should frack off.

When you can say fuck on air

October 5th, 2009 at 1:10 pm by David Farrar

Brian Edwards blogs on the F word, and how often it is used on TV now. I’m not that interested in that (I hardly even realise when the word is said), but on his quoting rules from various radio and TV networks.

Radio New Zealand’s programme rules state: ‘In general, senior managers will never approve the word “motherfucker”, and the word “fuck” will only be approved in rare circumstances where context justifies its use.’

But what if one is talking about a Tasmanian?

The Radio Network has an even stricter policy.  ’Fuck’ may not be used by its programme hosts or talk-back callers. Like all talk-back stations, the ZB network operates a 7-second delay, allowing hosts to delete unacceptable material before it is broadcast.

So Radio NZ is slightly more liberal. I’m on the Panel this afternoon so maybe I’ll see if I can slip it in – just kidding Noelle 🙂

TV3 will allow limited use of obscene language after 8pm but takes a much more relaxed approach after 9.30. (Outrageous Fortune and Seven Days are both TV3 programmes broadcast after 9.30.)

Wasn’t the Ralston Group on after 9.30?

TVNZ takes a similar position. Though it will on occasion broadcast the f-word after 8.30pm, it prefers to restrict its use of the word until after 9.30. If the word is used more than twice, the programme will be preceded by a viewer warning.

I love how they have a quota. More than two fucks and you get a warning!

Most New Zealand newspapers will not print the word ‘fuck’ in full, preferring to use asterisks as in ‘f**k’. This always struck me as rather silly, since there are very few New Zealanders who would not be able to fill in the missing letters.

It is silly, but I sometimes do it myself. It is a way of conveying what was said, without perhaps repeating any offence.