Thursday 12 September 2013

Taking less offence - revisited

Loyal readers will recall that New Zealand's Broadcast Standards Authority decides which words are particularly offensive by surveying New Zealanders. Alas, where they once ran face-to-face surveys asking them which of a series of pretty rude terms were particularly offensive, and in which contexts, they now run it via an internet panel survey. I had no end of fun imagining Eric Cartman volunteering to run a door-to-door version of the survey.

The BSA's 2013 list came out this week. It's called "What not to swear: the acceptability of words in broadcasting, 2013". They warn that the report contains language that some would find offensive. There hasn't been great changes in acceptability since 2009; the 2009 figures showed a fairly substantial increase in tolerance of robust language as compared to 1999.

One interesting bit from their summary:
  • When comparing the different demographic groups, it is evident that
    • Males tend to be more accepting of the words than females
    • Younger respondents tend to be more accepting than older respondents
    • Those that state they have no religion tend to be more accepting than those of religious belief
    • Those of Māori ethnicity are generally more accepting than those of other ethnicities, while Pacific peoples are less accepting
    • Those on high household incomes tend to be more accepting
I wish they'd run some regressions rather than just comparisons of means. Pacific groups tend, in New Zealand, to be lower income and more religious. Are differences between Pacific responses to swearing based on religious differences between Pacific and Maori groups, or something else?

I try to set the dial, for lecturing, to avoid terms considered offensive to a majority in the context of "people being interviewed (TV or radio)".

The very very best part of the report is Appendix I, where respondents were invited to fill in those terms that they personally found offensive. They make a point of reminding readers that the comments are copied verbatim. Words typed in range from "goodgracious" and "Doodoohead" and "OMG, Oh My God" to very creative spellings of other terms. Just go read it. And imagine what you'd have added in, had you had the chance. Please do not contribute suggestions in the comments though. We're not that kind of blog.

We remain impressed by the robustness of language frequently heard on broadcast television, after 8:30, in New Zealand.

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