Saturday, September 25, 2010
I came across this important document the other day: the New Zealand Broadcasting Standards' Guide to the Acceptability of Words on Television and Radio, 2010 [PDF].* It's an interesting index to the cultural changes in New Zealand society over the past decade, if you go in for that sort of thing. Or if you simply appreciate long lists of rude words published by a government body.
Comparison with a similar list issued by the BBC in 2006 is instructive: Britons and New Zealanders agree on the rudest word of all, but otherwise there are considerable cultural differences, most notably as regards the relative offensiveness of 'wanker', the taking of the Lord's name in vain (far more shocking in New Zealand), and the various Britishisms ('sodding', 'shag', 'spastic' etc) which don't merit a mention on the antipodean list. While saying 'bollocks' is still quite rude in England, apparently, it's no problem at all in New Zealand: the respondents to the NZ BSA's survey believe 'bullshit' to be far ruder than 'bollocks', and 'bastard' considerably ruder than both of them.
There's probably a thesis topic to be developed in an analysis of the social changes reflected by the unacceptability of words over time, or in an international comparison of the valence of unacceptable words: a kind of Big Mac Index to cultural vulgarity. I'm a bit busy at the moment, but I'd love to read it.
The trend is definitely downwards, however: what offended New Zealanders in 1999 hardly ruffles a feather today. Which begs the question, once again: if swearing is increasingly socially acceptable, and everyone's doing it, where's the fun in it?
*via Sacha Dylan.