Massachusetts Town Swears Off Swearing

Middleborough, Mass., is like many small American towns with its white picket fences, kids playing in the park - and swearing, which as of this week comes with a $20 fine.

The town has too much swearing, according to 63-year-old Mimi Duphily, a Middleborough resident and member of the town's Downtown Business Coalition, and she decided to do something about it.

"Kids were standing on the sidewalks, well, adults too, really, and yelling at someone like 100 feet down the block, using incredible profanity," Duphily said. "It was gradually getting worse and worse."

So Duphily brought up the issue to the Downtown Business Coalition and word eventually got around to Middleborough Police Chief Bruce Gates. On Monday night, residents voted 183-50 to approve the proposal impose a $20 fine on public profanity, The Associated Press reported.

And this isn't the first time the issue has been brought up in Middleborough.

"We used to have a law against swearing but it wasn't enforced because that meant it was criminal," Duphily said. "But now, if you pay the ticket, then it's done and over with." That, she says, makes the law more enforceable.

Duphily said she has heard many negative reactions, but that the intention was never to infringe on anyone's rights.

"We don't want to do anything about your private conversations, that's between you and whoever you talk to," Duphily said. "It's mainly for aggressive behavior or verbal assault of someone who's a distance away from you. It's really just about when it rises above what is acceptable behavior."

Duphily said she and the Downtown Business Coalition began to complain about the use of profanity in Middleborough because it was affecting businesses in the area.

"It was so appalling that customers weren't comfortable and businesses were suffering," she said. "Older people and parents with kids wouldn't even walk by anymore because it was so uncomfortable."

And despite the negative reaction from some, Duphily says people in other states are curious about the new proposition.

"I'm getting emails from people saying, 'Let us know how it goes,'" she said. "People all over - from Virginia, to out West, all the way to California."