Do Carlin's 'Seven Dirty Words' Still Shock?

Comedians argue for more curses on TV; critics say it won't happen anytime soon.

ByABC News
February 12, 2009, 1:04 PM

June 24, 2008 — -- You won't hear the seven dirty words come out of George Carlin's mouth again, and it's doubtful you'll ever hear them all on broadcast television, either.

Carlin, who died Sunday at age 71, cemented his reputation as one of comedy's most crass with his expletive-laced 1972 monologue, "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television" (or re-print here). Not only did Carlin's cavalier ode to curses shock and offend his critics, it also led to a landmark Supreme Court ruling about what could and could not be said on broadcast TV and radio.

Despite that 1978 ruling, the Federal Communications Commission doesn't have a list of words it considers profane. In its consumer fact sheet, the FCC defines profanity as "including language so grossly offensive to members of the public who actually hear it as to amount to a nuisance."

So, with no black and white rules, it's up to the networks to decide what words are appropriate for air. While conventions have changed since the 70s, -- s*** is fine on basic cable past 10 p.m., and anything goes on premium channels -- for the most part, any slur more vivid than "ass" or "b****" (neither of which Carlin included among his set of seven) is verboten on broadcast TV.

Joan Rivers thinks that's just dumb.

"It's so silly and so stupid," said the veteran comedian and fashion critic, who got kicked off British television last week for saying f*** and s*** on a show that she noted was named, of all things, "Loose Women." "I think this is such a rough, tough, fast world, and everyone in their house should make their own rules. But don't make me fit in with your lifestyle when I've never met you. You have a child up at 11p.m., and you're worried about what they'll hear on TV? Put your child to bed and then sit down and hear the word c***. [One of Carlin's 'Seven.']"

Paul Mooney, who wrote for Carlin's contemporary Richard Pryor, echoed Rivers' call to loosen standards, given an appropriate time (after 10 p.m.) and forum (comedic).