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Seven Dirty Words

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"Shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker and tits."

On his seminal comedy album Class Clown, the late great George Carlin encapsulated the bizarre censorship standards of US network television. Rife with violence, sexual situations, and other unpleasantness that would not be broadcast in most countries, US broadcasters avoided showing mundanities like toilets, pregnancy, and two-person beds until the 1960s or even later. Carlin's little list caused a furor from Moral Guardians, that forbade the list from being broadcast. When the legal dust settled, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Seven Dirty Words might be acceptable for broadcast under certain circumstances, and that the FCC had the right to restrict broadcast content at times when children might be exposed to it. But they weren't exactly specific about any of it.


With the FCC given the unilateral right to grant and revoke broadcast licenses for nebulous reasons, they wield considerable power over the broadcast companies. They, in turn, generally do not monitor broadcasts on their own; action is initiated because of viewer or listener complaints. If the audience prefers coarser material, the broadcaster can get away with just about anything. Pushing the envelope in American network television has mostly been a game of "try it and see if you get away with it."

It should be noted that when the term "American television" is used in this context, it refers to the FCC-controlled mainstream commercial networks. Although there are some residual regulations regarding broadcast hours, there are no bars to the use of language in cable broadcast channels (which greatly outnumber the network channels). Despite this "basic" cable channels (those which come standard with a cable purchase, unlike premium channels like HBO that must be purchased separately) tend to adhere to FCC guidelines voluntarily.


  • Shit - NYPD Blue, a show long known for pushing boundaries, announced that it would air the first uncensored instance of the word "shit" on network television. The furor was fairly small, but the idea was viciously mocked by South Park, broadcast by cable channel Comedy Central. Now a days you're allowed to say it on certain stations past 9 P.M.
  • Piss - George Carlin, in later life, pointed out in at least one interview that the acceptability of "piss" is generally a question of whether or not it is an actual reference to urine — "I got pissed off" is far less likely to get bleeped than "I got pissed on". The first network broadcast that allowed "piss" to mean "urinate" was Shogun.
  • Fuck - The documentary Scared Straight, which aired on a US commercial network in the mid-1970s, included several uncensored uses of the word. However, the only acceptable usage so far appears to be in similar documentary-style broadcasts.
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  • Cunt - The only one of the seven which may be considered more offensive now than when Carlin did the original routine. Not only forbidden in American network television, but in almost all conversation. Considered extremely vulgar and misogynistic in North America, even though it is used more as a unisex term of offense in the rest of the Anglosphere. note 
  • Cocksucker - While "suck" and other forms are widely used even in G-rated media, and "cock" is acceptable if you're talking about chickens or preparing to fire a gun, "cocksucker" is still largely banned. If you want to know for certain, watch a non-HBO rebroadcast of the movie Bull Durham; there is a scene that depends upon the word.
  • Motherfucker - See "fuck." A fan pointed out to Carlin that the word was redundant, but Carlin kept it in because removing it disrupted the rhythm of the piece. Generally considered more offensive than the base word; characters in the HBO series Deadwood, for example, take great offense at the word as they interpret it as a literal reference to incest.
  • Tits - Like "piss", it probably crept in at some point, but there are still places that will censor it. It was deleted, for example, from Grease in the scene where the T-Birds are mocking the cheerleaders, and when it was used in an episode of the 1980s sitcom The Trials Of Rosie O Neill, it caused an uproar and has rarely if ever been heard on network TV since, despite Carlin describing it as the least offensive of the words on his list (although by 2018 standards it is now considered a sexist term, unless you're referring to the bird species).

Live events, to avoid these and other dirty words, often refer to a seven second delay. Note that live events are NOT immune to the dirty words; these seven seconds between recording and broadcasting allow the networks to add in last-minute edits like censorship and captioning but there have been many occasions where dirty words have been broadcast.

Carlin's follow-up album, Occupation: Foole, features a redeux of the Seven Words and augments it with three additional words:

  • Fart - Like "tits," a cute word, no harm (in recent years, "fart" has become widely used, even in PG-rated programming).
  • Turd - You can't say it but who wants to? (Another word that, in the years since Carlin cited it, has become more acceptable to use on TV.)
  • Twat - On the list because it's the only part of the sexual anatomy that does not have a double meaning. "Snatch," "box", "pussy", "balls", and "dong" (when always accompanied with "ding") can be used in a Walt Disney movie when used properly, but "twat" remains isolated.

Ironically, one word omitted from both versions of Carlin's list is "ass" and its derivative, "asshole," both of which were banned from US network TV at the time of Carlin's recording, except for (in the case of "ass") referring to the animal. In recent years, "ass" has become acceptable in most network programming, while "asshole" made its network debut in NYPD Blue where it was used frequently; other than this outlier, however, the word generally is not heard on commercial network TV.

Unrelated to the Eight Deadly Words. Nor to the Seven Deadly Sins.

Media That Have Referenced The Seven Dirty Words:

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     Comic Books  

  • The Simpsons comic book in one issue showed a weary George Carlin talking about "The Seven Words You Used to Not Be Able to Say on TV But Are Perfectly Alright Now."


  • In Bruce Almighty, the eponymous Bruce is trying to convince his ex to come back to him, and has the following conversation:
    Bruce: Would it help if I said I was being a complete ass?
    Nearby Child:You said ass!
    Bruce: It's okay if I'm talkin' about a donkey.
    • But then he goes and ruins it.
    Bruce: ...If I said "hole", as in assHO-
    Grace: (cutting him off) OKAY!
  • When The Simpsons Movie is broadcast on television, Marge's line "Somebody throw the Goddamn bomb!" is censored to a varying degree, depending on the network: some cut the "God" part, others delete the swear entirely.


  • A paragraph in Part III, Chapter VI of Gulliver's Travels describes the "decoding" of letters and papers to "prove" their authors guilty of plotting against the state. This process consists of replacing one noun with a related one ("...they can decypher a Close-stool to signify a Privy-Council; a Flock of Geese, a Senate..."). One of the substitutions is to replace "a Sink" with "a C—-t" (censored thus, or replaced with "court", in most printings, but the intended word is fairly obvious).
  • In the Discworld novel The Truth, one of the characters actually says "—ing" rather than the full word (presumably "fucking").
    • Pratchett once mentioned that he occasionally gets mail worried that children will start saying "—ing" as though it actually is a swearword, which goes to prove two things: First, profanity is what you make of it, and second, there is nothing that someone, somewhere, won't take offense to.
      • It's a speech impediment...
      • And one character adapts it, gleefully saying "ing" (without the dash) and admitting that it makes her feel better, though she wonders what it means.
    • This particular Verbal Tic first appeared in Mort, spoken by a different pair of thugs:
      First Villain: Well, — me. A —ing wizard. I hate —ing wizards.
      Second Villain: You shouldn't — them, then. [Effortlessly pronounces a row of dashes.]
  • In Dan Simmons' Hyperion Cantos, Martin Silenus suffers brain damage that reduces his vocabulary to the Seven Dirty Words. He manages to communicate with them quite effectively. He eventually gets better.
  • Ian Fleming snuck one into his James Bond novel You Only Live Twice in which, during a discussion about foul language, Bond references the old "Freddy Uncle Charlie Katie."
  • Zeroth Law example: Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare:
    By my life, this is my lady's hand[writing]; these be her very C's, her U's and her T's and thus makes she her great P's.
    • That's hardly the only one, either. The title of Much Ado About Nothing itself has several (intended) meanings, including the "nothing"... in other words, women's parts. In Hamlet, there's this scene:
      Hamlet: Lady, shall I lie in your lap?
      Ophelia: No, my lord.
      Hamlet: I mean my head upon your lap.
      Ophelia: Aye, my lord.
      Hamlet: Or did you think I meant country matters?
      Ophelia: I think nothing, my lord.
      Hamlet: That's a fair thought, to lie between maid's legs.

     Live Action TV  

  • In Everybody Hates Chris, Chris hears his parents listen to the Carlin routine. He passes on the list at school to get laughs, but ends up in trouble for it. To get the story onto network TV, each word is replaced with its number in Carlin's list. The last line of the episode: "Number Threeeeeeeeee!"
    Mrs. Morello: Chris, I would like to have a word with you. In fact, I'd like seven words with you.
    Narrator: Number one just hit the fan.
  • An episode of That '70s Show featured the gang listening to the record. Eric went through the rest of the episode using the numbers to insult people. Donna (on Eric's suggestion) later tricks a rival radio DJ into playing the record on the air to get the other woman fired.
    • Leads to a case of Critical Research Failure though, as if one substitutes the actual words in for the numbers, Eric seems to be misremembering them. He gets some right ("You think your one don't stink, well three-off you threeing three!"), but other times:
      You are one sixing, sevening monkey-fiver. (translatiion: "You are one motherfucking, titsing monkey-cocksucker.")
      • Special mention, however, goes to what Eric says after the above trick goes into place (said to Donna): "Now, let's go home and five all night."note  Either Eric meant "three" all night, or he was looking for a little tongue action.
  • Have I Got Unbroadcastable News For You: Despite being exclusively for home video the producer would like to point some words not to mention in the recording...
    Producer: Wee-wee, piddle, nipples, farting, winkle, poo-poos, front bottom, semolina-
    Richard Wilson: Semolina?
    Producer waves hand in 'Don't even go there!' manner.
    Producer: Penetrate, fallopian, renal, rectum, post-coital and simultaneous multiple orgasm.
    Richard Wilson: What about 'fuck'?
    Producer: Oh, yeah! You can say fuck! Got to sell it to the thirteen-year-olds, after all.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus has a similar bit, with slides showing the words that can no longer be used on the program: B*m, B*tty, P*x, Kn*ckers, Kn*ckers, W**-W**, and Semprini. Semprini? — OUT!
  • Used in The X-Files when most of one episode is presented as Scully's account of a case she and Mulder worked on. In her version of events, a foul-mouthed detective actually says "bleep". A lot.
    "You really bleeped up this case."
    "Of course, he didn't actually say bleeped, he said..."
  • Whilst it is probably not a direct reference there is a Two Ronnies sketch about a swear jar in a pub to raise money for the church idea. All of the swearing is censored by beeps, klaxons and so on (with each clearly meant to be a certain word, a whooping noise being much worse than the others and worth £1 rather than 20p.)
  • In The Colbert Report Stephen did a segment on Carlin's death where he mistook the list as a list of words Carlin himself banned from the airwaves. After he thanks him, an off-screen man tells Stephen that Carlin was a stand-up who used that list to mock censorship. Stephen then turned to a photo of Carlin and called him a motherf*beep*er
  • Somehow both averted and played straight in the show $#*! My Dad Says, which took the unorthodox step of invoking the first dirty word in the title, but censored itself with Symbol Swearing. As noted on the page, it's probably the only show on television whose proper title is literally illegal to say on any of the stations it airs on. Thus it usually got referred to as "Bleep My Dad Says." Ironically, many viewers' DVR players refused to recognized the non-alphabetic characters in the title, making it impossible to find. The show turned out to be a major flop; make of that what you like.
  • The Comedy Central Roast of Bob Saget had Jeff Ross pay tribute to the recently deceased Carlin at the time, by announcing seven more dirty words that will never be said on television: "And the Emmy goes to Bob Saget!"
  • In the episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 involving the film The Magic Sword, before they read the fan letter, there's a brief conversation about naughty words, inspired by the film's seven curses. The crew suggests dirty words which you can say on television, among them "hinder", "booger", "poopie", "kaka", "dingaling"... Recurring catchphrase "dickweed" was probably the most offensive.
  • Inverted on MythBusters, where Adam rattles off a list of numerous synonyms for "shit" that the producers will let them use, in their test of the adage: "You can't polish a turd". (Yes, both "shit" and "turd" were bleeped out.) This was one of them that he said, "And we can only say * this* twice!" Jamie immediately says it again, thereby forcing it to be censored. The (hilarious) point was that that sort of censoring was rather ridiculous. And it was.
  • The Daily Show paid homage to this in a November 2014 segment. Every one was bleeped except "tits."


  • blink-182 has a number of yawn-and-you-won't-hear-it short songs that are largely excuses to use profanity. One of them — the ironically-titled song "Family Reunion" — uses the Seven Dirty Words, including the three auxiliary words (You can hear it here. Language warning, obviously.) After four verses consisting entirely of those ten words repeated rhythmically, the song finishes with "I fucked your mom".
    • And then an "outtake" by Tom in a wobbly tenor:
    "I wanna suck my daaaad, and my momma too— Oh, is this thing on?"
  • Tim Minchin plays with this. "I saw the word fuck on the front page of the newspaper—all they had to do was spell it f** k." He goes on to point out that by contrast, you couldn't get away with a normally innocuous word like finger, even if you spelt it f** ger in "I want to finger your mum."
  • Flanders and Swann spoofed the swearing and censorship brigade as early as The '50s, with a song called Pee Po Belly Bum Drawers. The song title was printed on the album cover as "P** P* B*** B** D***".
  • The song "Do It Like A Dude" by Jessie J has been played on public radio. The words "motherfucker" (in each bridge) and "crotch" (twice each chorus) as well as a bunch of other sex-rated words have to be blanked, but Jessie Jay is popular enough that stations will play this crippled version anyway.
  • Voltaire's "The Dirtiest Song that Ain't" uses rhymes that prompt the audience to fill in the words he's not allowed to say on the radio.
  • Metallica featured the following parody of a warning sticker on Master of Puppets:
    The only track you probably won't want to play is "Damage, Inc." due to the multiple use of the infamous "F" word. Otherwise, there aren't any "Shits", "Fucks", "Pisses", "Cunts", "Motherfuckers" or "Cocksuckers" anywhere on this record.
This may be an homage to Carlin, since it consists entirely of six of his Seven Dirty Words and excluded the one he said didn't belong on the list, namely "Tits". It wouldn't be the first time Metallica did this sort of thing in a Shout-Out - they changed the spelling of H. P. Lovecraft's story "The Call of Cthulhu" for their piece "The Call of Ktulu" in part because Lovecraft wrote that saying, or even spelling out, Cthulhu's name would draw his attention.
  • Monty Python parodied this trope in a similar example to Voltaire's example above with "I Bet You They Won't Play This Song on the Radio", which uses Sound Effect Bleeps to censor parts of the song. The listener's mind makes the song sound a lot dirtier than it actually is. It apparently actually did get played on the radio, though.

     Video Games  

  • In Sam & Max Season 2, you can actually change the "seven words you can't say on television" to Items on a Grocery list. (Cantaloupe, Melons, Chicken Breasts, Oregano Vanilla and Soda), changing these words allows you to hear the name of a character that was being censored (It was Dick Peacock), and every time the words of the new list is said by a character, the word is censored.

     Web Original  

     Western Animation  

  • SpongeBob SquarePants, "Sailor Mouth":
    Mr. Krabs: Yessir, that is bad word number eleven. In fact, there are thirteen bad words you should never use.
    Squidward: Don't you mean there are only seven?
    Mr. Krabs: Not if you're a sailor. (laughs)
    • The concept of censorship itself is also played with later in the episode-throughout the episode, instead of actual swears, we hear any of thirteen different sound effects, depending on which swear is being used (this is important). Later in the episode, after being soundly scolded by Mr. Krabs' dear old mum and forced to paint her house in order to atone for their sins, Mrs. Krabs stubs her pegleg and emits the sound of an old automobile horn. Mr. Krabs, shocked, cries, "Mother!" Whereupon Mrs. Krabs says, "What? It's Old Man Jenkins in his jalopy!" (Now just think about that for a minute or two)
  • The Simpsons
    • After Kent Brockman was fired for saying "a word so vile it should only be uttered by Satan himself while sitting on the toilet", Grandpa remarks that in his day TV celebrities weren't allowed to say "booby", "tushy", "burp", "fanny-burp", "underpants", "dingle-dangle", "Boston marriage", "LBJ", "Titicaca", or "frontlumps".
    • In the episode where Bart and Nelson go to war, Grampa is seen writing a letter about "words that shouldn't be used on TV", one of them (Family Jewels) turns out to be an example of Strange Minds Think Alike, as it was used a scene earlier.
    • From the episode "Mr. Spritz Goes To Washington":
      Krusty: I could even tell the FCC to take a hike. Look at this list of words they won't let me say on the air. (hands Bart a piece of paper)
      Bart: Aww! All the good ones. Hmm, I never even heard of number nine.
      Krusty: That's 2-ing 13 while she's 11-ing your 5.
      Bart: Can I keep this?
      Krusty: Sure, no 12 off my ass.
    • In yet another episode, Krusty is banned from television for ten years for saying the word "pants" on the air during the fifties. The word "pants" was, in fact, considered a dirty word at one time, though this was in the 19th century rather than in the 1950s. For that it would seem perfectly normal to still be an issue in Springfield, since they burn people at the stake for science. They move at a slower rate than the rest of the world.
    • Krusty seems to like this one. From yet another episode:
      Assistant: George Carlin on the line.
      Krusty: Yeah? Lawsuit? Oh, come on. My "Seven Words You Can't Say on TV" bit was entirely different from your "Seven Words You Can't Say on TV" bit.
    • And then there's Kent Brockman in a (supposedly) live newscast:
      Kent: How can I prove we're live? Penis!
  • South Park: In the aforementioned "It Hits The Fan", the verboten words are revealed to represent a literal curse, each one associated with a dragon, and defended by the Knights of Standards and Practices. One of the less-well known dirty words is "Mee Krob", a Thai noodle dish.
  • The Animaniacs song about Lake Titicaca ends with the Warners stating their love of saying that word...think about it for a minute, por favor.
    Oh Lake Titicaca, yes Lake Titicaca
    Why do we sing of its fame?
    Lake Titicaca, yes Lake Titicaca
    'Cause we really like saying its name!
    • Titicaca!
  • Amazingly, Regular Show managed to get away with saying "pissed" multiple times, despite being TV-PG on primetime Cartoon Network. They eventually caught on and censored it.

     Real Life  

  • On Radio Caroline's 1977 New Year show, Dutch DJ Marc Jacobs responded to a ribbing by another DJ with the words "You motherfucker!" Jacobs later apologised on air, but since Caroline was a pirate station there were no official reprisals.
  • In 2003, during a live airing of the Golden Globe awards, lead singer Bono of U2 greeted the band's award with "this is fucking brilliant!" Surprisingly, the FCC determined that the incident was not indecent, as the usage was "spontaneous and fleeting" and did not refer to the act of fucking. No one was fined.

Media That Have Referenced American TV Censorship Standards In General


  • The South Park feature film, South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, brutally savaged the MPAA's rules for industry censorship as the driving force for the main story arc.
    • In fact, the subtitle was original something more tame but less subtle. Censors got on their asses about it and they responded as you might expect Trey Parker and Matt Stone would.
      • To elaborate, the original title was simply: South Park Gone to Hell. The censors refused to allow the word 'Hell' in the title, and in protest Parker and Stone changed the name to much more subtle (but INFINITELY dirtier subtext) Bigger, Longer and Uncut. To their surprise it was approved.
      • The concept is pretty much the plot of the movie. As Kyle's mom puts it:
        Sheila Broflovski Remember what the MPAA says; Horrific, Deplorable violence is okay, as long as people don't say any naughty words! That's what this war is all about!

     Live Action TV  

     Newspaper Comics  

  • One Story Arc in Bloom County referred to finding the word "snugglebunnies" as offensive. A strip in this arc had Milo and Binkley, upon notification, yelling "SNUGGLEBUNNIES!" repeatedly until being cut off mid-word. And mid-panel; the fourth panel was blank, presumably because the strip was cut off.

     Web Original  

  • The Angry Video Game Nerd: The "TV version" gag during his Action 52 review:
    AVGN: Whoever came up with this is an ass[bleep]! [beat] ...Ass! [beat] ...Hole? — ASS[bleep]! ...Television makes a whole lot of sense.

     Western Animation  

  • The Family Guy episode "PTV" blasted the FCC with both barrels, portraying them as going so far as to censor real life.
  • On Moral Orel Frances Clara Censordoll's name and character are a Take That! at the FCC. She is a selfish Manipulative Bastard Moral Guardian with a god complex.
  • Most of the time South Park attempts to take on the Muhammad representation controversy, they get shut up by the network, a fact that the show has picked up on.
    • After the network censored one episode, they decided to show how screwy the censorship is by testing what exactly the network thought was "too much". Apparently Muhammad and an aesop about intimidation and fear (which didn't even mention Muhammad) isn't ok, but a mentally handicapped kid getting raped by a shark is.
  • Recess, in the episode "The Story of 'Whomps'" dealt with a made-up word ("Whomps") which was deemed offensive by the adults.


  • Eric Idle wrote a song about the FCC after he was fined for swearing. [1]
  • In addition to his I Bet You They Won't Play This Song On The Radio, a parody on the use of random sounds to beep out swear words.
  • The chorus of Aerosmith's "Just Push Play" has the phrase "fuckin' A" deliberately muted, the next line rationalizing that "they're gonna bleep it anyway". Subverted in the last verse, where "fuckin' A" is untouched, but "bleep" is censored. Double Subverted when it was released as a single with a completely rewritten chorus, with no "fuckin' A", censored or not.
  • The Goth musician Voltaire released one song entitled, "The Dirtiest Song That Ain't", lampooning censorship. He deliberately left certain parts of the song blank, with the words being implied by the rhyme scheme; one of the words that was likely censored was "shoulder".
  • While german laws aren't even half as strict as the FCC, certain musicians can't get their songs on the radio without heavy censoring. While some musicians played with that by choosing their own Bleep sounds, others go the full way and simply accept that they're not gonna get on the radio. The worst songs of that caliber sometimes get mentioned on the channels aimed at younger audiences, with a censored excerpt playing to show just how bad it is ("Pussy" by ''Rammstein and some songs by rappers such as Sido or Bushido ended up in such displays).

Alternative Title(s): Mother F Bomb


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