Depends on what you meant about what you meant...

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2007/08/26 02:01 -04:00, original URI:

I admit I am no fan of either the MPAA or its ratings system.

But some interesting issues in language are raised by its criteria.

For example, the use of one of the harsher sexually derived words (e.g. fuck) even as few times can lead to a movie being given a PG-13 rating, while using it only once can lead to an R rating if it is used in a sexual sense.

The distinction, while obvious and rather easily defined, can at times be problematic, though.

Take for example the movie Crimson Tide, in which the word is used 28 times, mostly in a non-sexual sense, but certainly enough times to assure an R rating.

Some are obviously sexual (and more than a little offensive), like the first occurrence:

Yeah, horses are fascinating animals.
Dumb as fence posts but very intuitive.
In that way, they're not too different from high school girls.
They might not have a brain in their head...
but they do know all the boys want to fuck 'em.
Don't have to be able to read Ulysses to know where they're comin' from.

While most of the others are not, like the second (which can be considered offensive to some for entirely different reasons):

Somebody asked me if we should have bombed Japan...
a simple, "Yes, by all means, sir. Drop that fucker. Twice."

Or the third:

When you got somethin' to say to me, you say it in private.
And if privacy doesn't permit itself, then you bite your fucking tongue.

Now clearly these last two are not meant in a sexual sense. and so it goes for most of them.

But then there is a third sort of a category, like in the thirteenth use which comes just after the non-sexual twelfth

Sonar/Conn - let me know when our range to that Akula is open to 1,000 yards!
<<Conn/Sonar>> Aye, sir!
Damn it! Let's just shoot this fucker!
What's 1,000 yards for?
'Cause it takes 1,000 yards for the torpedoes to arm!
Jesus! Who'd you fuck to get on this ship?

Now this is a sexual sense, kind of. But not really -- it is obvious hyperbole and not a serious reference to sex. That someone can be so incompetent to understand such as basic issue about submarine warfare that the only way they could make it on submarine would be as payment for sexual favors (perhaps "Who do you have naked pictures of to get on this ship?" could have been used instead to get a similar meaning across, and it would have been more theoretically feasible of an idea in terms of getting assigned to a sub while incompetent. But in any case it is really not talking about a truly sexual context (or if it is, it is less serious of an example than that first one).

Kind of like the twentieth use just after the non-sexual nineteenth:

Weps, we've been ordered to launch.
Now why in the world would we do that if they weren't prepared to launch at us?
We don't know that for sure. That's the whole point.
That's why he wants time to confirm the message.
That's the whole fucking point is we don't have time!
Radchenko is fueling his birds. Now why do you think he's doing that?
Why? You don't put on a condom unless you gonna fuck!

Again, it is sexual, sort of. But really only as metaphor -- trying to explain that fueling missiles without arming them would make as much sense as putting on a condom without actually having sex. It is certainly a different degree of sexuality, if it is truly going to be treated as sexual at all.

Obviously with 28 uses of the word it was going to get an R rating anyway. But if a movie had just one or two examples of this "sexual, but not" kind of reference, I wonder whether it would be PG-13 or R?

A basic problem of having the ratings decision be based on not just the word itself but also on both the semantic context of whether it is being used sexually and the pragmatic context of whether the sexual use really is about sex.

Perhaps it is a distinction without a difference to some, but the uses seem different to me....


This post brought to you by (U+59d8, a CJK ideograph that may or may not be some relevance)

# Lukas Beeler on 26 Aug 2007 4:26 AM:

I never really understood why ratings get based upon the language used in a movie.

I don't know about the kids in the US, but the word "fuck" is normal vocabulary here in Switzerland for anyone over twelve - and from what i've heard from people living in the US this seems to be case even on the other end of the big pond.

Here in Switzerland, movies are usually rated by the canton (which is the same as a State in the US, just a lot smaller), and not a central authority. Which can lead to very strange results if you have the choice between two cinemas ;)

# Bryan on 26 Aug 2007 5:13 AM:

this is outside the established usage but one could obviously say who did you fuck to get on this ship and be meaning who did you 'screw over'.

however that meaning would then be misunderstood by everyone, making the usage somewhat perverse.

# Karellen on 26 Aug 2007 5:18 AM:

Of course, as an expert in i18n/l10n, I suspect that you have a few interesting insights or perspectives on how American it is to assume that sexual use of the word "fuck" is /obviously/ the most offensive.

Insinuating that fucking someone in a sexual sense is less offensive (less "serious" you say) than fucking them over in terms of blackmailing them or similar is, I think, something that many cultures might not agree with.

(Yes, I realise that the MPAA only rates films for American audiences, so they don't have to take other cultures into account when issuing their ratings.)

Of course, the word fuck can have *many* non-sexual meanings. "There aren't too many words with the versatility of fuck, as in these examples describing situations such as:

- fraud: I got fucked at the used car lot.

- dismay: Aw, fuck it!

- trouble: I guess I'm really fucked now.

- aggression: Don't fuck with me, buddy!

- difficulty: I don't understand this fucking question.

- inquiry: Who the fuck was that?

- dissatisfaction: I don't like what the fuck is going on here.

- incompetence: He's a fuck-off!

- dismissal: Why don't you go outside and play hide-and-go-fuck-yourself?"[0]



# Kemp on 26 Aug 2007 7:42 AM:

"- incompetence: He's a fuck-off!"

We'd tend to say fuck-up not fuck-off over here. Fuck-off sounds very odd to me as a description, but I know it is used. Oh, and "Fuck off" (without the hyphen) is a much easier to use dismissal =P

# Philip on 26 Aug 2007 2:04 PM:

See this article, "Fuck", written by associate professor Christopher Fairman at the Ohio State University, College of Law:

Interesting - and fun - article that touches upon this exact issue and many others regarding the use of the word "fuck".

# Karellen on 26 Aug 2007 3:33 PM:

Kemp - that's mostly how I'd use "fuck" as well, but seeing as I was quoting the mp3 I linked to, I couldn't really put it any other way. :)

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