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October 13, 2015

Top 15 best (intentional) uses of profanity on TV - VIDEO

by Julia Ward, posted May 21st 2007 10:16AM
deadwood al swearingGeorge Carlin's "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television" routine famously landed him in jail. He was charged for obscenity in 1972 after performing the bit at Milwaukee's Summerfest. When it was broadcast the following year on a New York City radio station, the FCC got in on the act. The radio station challenged the fine, and the case went all the way to the Supreme Court.

Now, I intend on using every one of Carlin's "dirty words" after the jump so consider yourself warned. Be prepared to wash your computer's mouth out with soap. It may look like a saint, but it swears like sailor.

Not appreciating a good curse word seems downright un-American to me. Does that horrible, school marm-ish argument about people who use curse words just aren't creative enough to come up with something else even mean anything? Why privilege creativity over economy when a simple "fuck" will do? And, what's not creative about "cat piss-smelling cocksuckers" when uttered by Ian McShane on Deadwood?

What's considered profane, of course, changes over time. As with most things in language, context is everything. Whether a word is just a good old-fashioned swear or borderline hate speech depends on who is saying it, when and to whom. But, television has given us some downright artful uses of Carlin's seven dirty words and beyond. This list is intended to give credit where credit is due for the most historically significant, hysterical and transgressive uses of naughty language.

Here's to the potty-mouthed. Without them, the world be way less fucking wonderful.

15. Seinfeld's "The Non-Fat Yogurt"
Jerry accidentally uses the word "fuck" near the son of the owner of a non-fat frozen yogurt shop that Kramer has invested in. The child, of course, begins to use the word frequently. Hilarity ensues.

14. SNL's "Lord Douchebag" sketch/The Daily Show's daily douching
"Where the devil are those Douchebags?" As TV Squad scribe Kevin Kelley described quite eloquently, "douche," "douchebags" and all other forms of general "douchebaggary" are on the rise. And, thank goodness, things were getting awfully rank around here.

13. 30 Rock's "The C Word"
"The C Word" has lost its bite in the UK, but on US soil, it still rides the fine line between swear word and hate speech. This is the one word most women will still recoil at, and 30 Rock dealt with the issue beautifully as woman-in-charge Tina Fey confronted an underling who so went there and so shouldn't have.

12. Mr. Show's "Taint" sketch
I've included Mr. Show's "it's insane, this guy's taint" sketch for a couple of reasons. 1. I didn't know what a "taint" was until I saw this episode. Before Bob and David, I just didn't have a word for the area between a man's testicles and his anus. (It's a sheltered life I lead.) 2. The expression "five inch taint" became such an insider joke in some circles that, at least, one band and one record label has been named after it.

11. The Unit
I don't have a specific example here, but David Mamet wrote the show so there must be something, right? Since I don't have an example, here's a Mamet joke for your next cocktail party. A panhandler comes up to a really snooty guy on the subway. The guy looks up at the beggar and says, "Neither a borrower nor a lender be. Shakespeare." The beggar's response: "Fuck you. Mamet." Thank you, and good night!

10. The Sarah Silverman Show's "The Humanitarian of the Year"
With the exception of a mainstay like "fuck," sexually-oriented curse words fall in and out of fashion all the time. Just a few years ago, I remember "pussy" being completely unacceptable. Now, what would The Daily Show be without its aforementioned "douchebags" and "pussies?" One word that has remained on the fringes is the colloquial expression for a vaginal fart - a "queef." Hats off to Sarah Silverman for dragging this word kicking and screaming into the limelight with an entire episode dedicated to a queefing ghost. Thanks, Sarah.

9. Inside the Actor's Studio's Pivot questionnaire
Easily the best question on the Bernard Pivot questionnaire that James Lipton always closes his celebrity ass-kissing sessions with is, "What's your favorite curse word?" I honestly lose respect for any guy who doesn't say "fuck," but it's always a thrill to see what inventive little swears Hollywood's brightest lights come up with. We also have this segment to thank for giving us Tobey Maguire as Screech on a 2000 SNL episode with Will Ferrell as James Lipton. His favorite swear: "frosted nuts."

8. Curb Your Enthusiasm's "The Grand Opening"
The third season of Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm closed with an opera of profanity as every single character got in on the act of hurling insults at one another at Larry's restaurant opening. Jim Staahl, who played the restaurant's manager and who taught a UCLA screenwriting class I took, told us that he tried to curse in Swedish because he has kids, but David wouldn't let him off the hook. They all had to improv the worst English language profanities possible. Way to swear, professor.

7. ER's "On the Beach"
As Dr. Mark Greene collapses on his bed, knowing that his brain tumor has finally defeated him, he utters the word "shit." The word "shit" was used on the show twice before by Peter Benton, but in both cases was barely audible and did not appear in the subtitles.

6. NYPD Blue
David Milch, creator of NYPD Blue, has said that it took an entire extra year to get NYPD Blue on the air because censors had to figure out what would and would not offend America's innocent ears. Milch wouldn't compromise, however, as he felt it was critical to reflect the lives of New York City cops accurately. Despite the delay, controversy erupted over the show's language. Fifty-seven of ABC's 225 affiliates preempted the first episode because of a protest led by the American Family Association.

5. Chicago Hope's "Shit Happens"
Mark Harmon was the first man to utter the word "shit" on network television in 1999. At the time, censors decided that the replacement phrase "it happens" did not carry the same meaning. That didn't stop CBS affiliates in cities like Detroit and Philadelphia from muting the word.

4. All in the Family
Without Norman Lear, the rest of this list probably wouldn't exist. Lear, the creator of All in the Family, wanted a show that dealt honestly with the realities of the day - people dealing with racism, homosexuality, impotence, women's lib and even breast cancer. When the show first aired, it was preceded by a warning that read, "The program you are about to see is All in the Family. It seeks to throw a humorous spotlight on our frailties, prejudices and concerns. By making them a source of laughter we hope to show, in a mature fashion, just how absurd they are." The disclaimer disappeared from the screen with the sound of a toilet flushing - the first toilet flush to be heard on network television. The show was famous for its use of racial epithets and was one of the first to use the phrase "God damn it."

3. Deadwood
David Milch didn't stop with NYPD Blue. He was just getting his deliciously foul mouth started. With the creative freedom afforded to him by HBO, Milch was able to raise cursing to an artform. Al Swearengen's use of the word "cocksucker" was downright Shakespearean. Ian McShane can kiss me with that mouth anytime.

2. South Park's "It Hits the Fan"
Pissed that the FCC let curse words fly on dramatic shows like NYPD Blue, the boys behind everyone's favorite foul-mouthed fourth graders decided to push the limits of all that is decent by using the word "shit" 161 times in a single episode. They even included a convenient "shit" counter at the bottom of the screen.

1. The Wire's "Fuck" Scene
The honor of the all time best use of a curse word on television goes to The Wire for using the word "fuck" 38 times in a row and nothing else. As an utterance, this scene proves that "fuck" has the same linguistic flexibility as "dude" or "smurf." Audacious in its conception, dizzying in its execution, marvel as McNulty and Bunk investigate a crime scene equipped with nothing but a few photos, a tape measure and my favorite word.

Related: Top ten F-bombs dropped on live TV - VIDEOS

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Yep. Curb Your Enthusiasm's "The Grand Opening" was one of the best ever because all the major characters on the show took a swing and lot the profanities fly. The best, however, was when the very proper Michael York let 'er rip.


May 21 2007 at 5:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Liz Lacy

Best ever version of the "what's your favorite curse word" on ITAS was Ian McKellen.

McKellen: Cunt. *a brief pause* Not that there's anything wrong with a cunt... I'm told.

May 21 2007 at 4:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I cant believe you left off the Star Trek one. Might not have been the greatest but it was the 1st. Tame by todays standards but risky in its day.

"Lets get the hell out of here" uttered by Captain Kirk in "City on the Edge of Forever."

May 21 2007 at 4:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

"Fuckity fuck fuck fuck....fucker."

I love that scene!

May 21 2007 at 3:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'm glad that the scene from The Wire is #1. Greatest f-ing TV show ever.

But wait, what about Arrested Development? Bleeping-out words turned into an art form.

May 21 2007 at 3:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Great, now I need to start watching the Wire. That scene was awesome.

May 21 2007 at 2:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I still remember the Dr. Greene episode. I stopped crying long enough to say, "did he really just say that?"

May 21 2007 at 1:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Not to knock 30 Rock's take on the "C Word," but How I Met Your Mother did it better a few months earlier. They substituted it with the word "grinch," but the point was still made.

May 21 2007 at 1:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
David D

There was a CBS made-for-TV movie called "Day One" which was about J. Robert Oppenheimer and the birth of the atomic bomb, and one of the lines of dialogue -- delivered by Michael Tucker of "L.A. Law" -- was "the atomic bomb is shit, Robert." It got some flack at the time, but it went through.

May 21 2007 at 11:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to David D's comment
Terrell Kent Holmes

I contend that Mark Harmon's "**** happens" was NOT the first time that word was uttered on network television. I remember it happening in 1978 or 1979 when CBS aired the movie (irony coming) "Network." During the scene where Howard Beale is explaining to his audience why he said he was going to kill himself on TV, he says "I ran out of bullshit." I jumped out of my chair when I heard this, and he repeated "bullshit" a couple more times without CBS bleeping it out. I don't remember any big controversy following it, either. Does anyone else remember this?

March 31 2015 at 1:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

F***ing nice post :-)

May 21 2007 at 11:44 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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