British town bans curse words

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Photo of a child with his hand over his mouth (Image by Flickr user Mel B. (cc:by))

This story was originally covered by PRI's The World. For more, listen to the audio above.

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You may remember George Carlin's classic comedy routine -- "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television." Well, you can't say them on the radio either.

Now, in Britain, one town is going a step further. Barnsley, in the northwest of England, is focusing on going after potty mouths.

It's not as if the people of Barnsley are cursing a blue streak all day, every day. But some of the townsfolk agreed with the police that Barnsley could use a little more gentility, a little more politesse.

So last week, the posters went up, the word went out -- abusive, aggressive swearing won't be tolerated and the punishment could be $130 fine.

At least some residents expect police to collect lots of fines for uttering four letter words.

"I think there'll be a lot of fines, I really do. I hope they're not round here," said one resident. "I think when you've got children or grandchildren with you it's not very nice," said another. "Seems a bit of a waste of police time."

Barnsley is no trendsetter when it comes to barnstorming against bad words. Other cities, countries, even American states have tried to outlaw cussing and cursing in public. On the opposite end though, are places like Hyde Park in London -- more specifically Speakers' Corner.

Egyptian student Maryam is on her soapbox, in her case an upturned plastic crate, exercising her right to free speech in a place where swearing in public is pretty much tolerated. Not for Maryam though. She supports Barnsley's efforts.
"It's good to have a high morality standard in society. People should not be allowed to disturb other peoples' lives," she said.

A veteran of Speakers' Corner, Heiko Khoo, disagrees.

"Barnsley is a famous mining town. So it was a very proletarian zone -- people living off the mines for centuries and living off that type of existence. So the idea that you can make it posh and polite is an absurdity," he said.

For some in Barnsley though, putting a stop to swearing in public is really about the bottom line. That's why greengrocer Mitch Millward supports the campaign.

"People don't want to hear that kind of thing while they're going around doing their general shopping. Every little bit helps. If it helps more people into town, into the market, we're all for it," Millward said.

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