Granny's Obscene License Plate?

A battle is brewing in central Ohio over a license plate.

To some, the four letters on 75-year-old Pat Niples' license plate are an acronym for a vulgar expression. To Niples, they are a simple tribute to a Christmas tree farm she owned with her late husband.

Niples says she's had "NWTF" on her license plate for 10 years. The letters stand for Naplewood Tree Farm, a family-owned and -operated business.

This year, however, Department of Motor Vehicle officials won't let her renew the "NWTF" plate. They say the acronym is "inappropriate."

Niples, confused at the suggestion that the call letters could be viewed as obscene, turned to a younger generation to ask whether it could fill her in on the lewd lingo.

"Even my kids and grandkids had no idea what 'NWTF' meant," she said.

A trip to the motor vehicles bureau provided some clarity into 21st-century jargon.

"I asked the woman at the DMV what the problem was," Niples said. "She whispered to me, 'Apparently, 'NWTF' also stands for 'Now what the f-- and the last word began with an f'," she said.

Niples said she was shocked. "I'm just a little old lady, and those words are not in my vocabulary."

In the 10 years she's had the plate, the only confusion it had ever stirred was from a neighbor that thought it stood for "National Wildlife Turkey Federation," she said.

Niples says she plans to write a letter to motor vehicles officials.

"That plate had sentimental value, and it was easy for me to remember," she said. "Goodness gracious, you could take any letters in the alphabet and come up with something inappropriate."

Fred Strattman, spokesman for the Bureau of Motor Vehicles in Ohio, says all the requests for plates are reviewed by a socially and ethnically diverse group that uses a slang dictionary to stay up to date on the latest street phrases.

"Our committee reviews more than 300,000 plate requests each year, rejecting any profane, obscene and explicit messages, which make up about 5,000 of those requests," he said.

Strattman says it's very conceivable that Niples will get her plates back in the appeals process.

"Our committee may have erred on the side of caution when it comes to Niples," he said, "but we have to look at it the way the public does."

This is not the first controversial case involving a license plate. Each state has its own policy and review standards for vanity-plate approvals.

According to the Freedom Forum's Paul McMaster, an expert on First Amendment issues, Niples' problem is fairly common.

"Issues with license plates comes up quite often with the courts. Last year a battle over a 'choose life' vanity plate ended up in the Supreme Court on three separate occasions," he said.

As for Niples' seven children and 29 grandchildren, they are getting quite a kick out of the woman who used to wash their mouths out with soap for merely whispering foul language.

"They're calling me saying, 'Mom, now what have you done. Our mother is obscene!'" she said.

Because she can't hit the road with the plate, Niples says she will frame it and hang it on her wall as she awaits a response to her appeal.