Safire on Dirty Words

William Safire pays tribute to George Carlin in his latest “On Words Column”. He writes, in part:

In his incessant use of “the seven words you can’t use on television,” he gave us more than a good taste of bad taste. His defense, however, could be in the lessening of offense-taking: Carlin may have reduced the power of odious obscenities and puerile profanity by devaluing their shock value, which was a perverse kind of linguistic service, as far as I’m concerned.

But really is that a linguistic service? Leave aside the question of the morality of the use of profanity and it seems clear that by the dimunation of the shock value of these words the language is impoverished.

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