‘F**k’ – Offensive, or simply Australian?

November 24, 2016

 source // quickmeme


Fuck. Yes, I know, I just said it. Stop me? Eh, it’s merely a word that is commonplace in society. Offensive? Never!


This appears to be the general consensus in a modern Australian society. The word ‘fuck’ is no longer seen as offensive. Recently, a Magistrate found that chants of ‘fuck Fred Nile’ were not deemed as offensive behavior. Crucially the beloved ‘fuck’ and phrases involving said word are part of the vernacular now, although some may be disappointed if they consider the words ‘Fred Nile’ to be offensive.


When you consider that words including ‘bloody’ and ‘bastard’ were once considered offensive, we have come a long way. The attitude towards the word has changed over recent decades, however its use is still subject to context. Unfortunately, we cannot just say fuck in just about every circumstance….yet. Depending on the jurisdiction, one may be subject to various offensive behavior provisions, for example, s 17 of the Summary Offences Act 1966 (Vic) or the similar s 4A offence contained in Summary Offences Act 1988 (NSW) which prohibit the use of offensive language in a public place. Violating these provisions could even potentially land you prison time!


However, more than a murmur of the word ‘fuck’ would clearly be needed. The court will usually consider what the words used were, the context in which the words were used, the number of people who heard the words and the intention of the speaker. There is also a defence if the court is satisfied that the speaker had a ‘reasonable excuse’ as to the use of the offensive language in question.


Such provisions incorporate insulting words or obscene language under the definition of offensive behavior, which as such, the fantastic word ‘fuck’, may very well fall into. For it to be considered ‘offensive behavior’, the behavior in question requires an arousal of particular emotions, such as anger or disgust in those who hear or view such behavior or wounding one’s feelings (see Nelson v Mathieson (2003) 143 A Crim R 148, 152). In Nelson v Mathieson, the court observed that the rejection of commonly held views or opinions does not itself make behaviour or words offensive. It would therefore be difficult for the word fuck to arouse such emotion by itself.


It should be noted that in NSW by saying words or phrases constituting ‘offensive language’ can get you a $500 on the spot fine. This $500 figure was recently increased from $150 only a couple of years ago as a measure to combat drug and alcohol-fuelled violence. Other States have similar laws relating to fines, although seemingly no on the spot fines of this magnitude. For example, in Victoria on the spot fines may be as much as $240. For the period July 2015 to June 2016, there were 3,913 recorded incidents for offensive language.


Interestingly, even back in 1966, ‘fuck’ was not necessarily considered offensive. In Ball v McIntyre [1966] 9 FLR 237, it was suggested that such use the word ‘fuck’ would only be offensive when it aroused a ‘significant emotional reaction’ and must be more than ‘improper’ or a breach of ‘courtesy or good manners’. This became a developing trend of the following decades as seen in Horton v Rowbottom (1993) A Crim R 381, where the Magistrate held that ‘fuck’ and phrases involving its use should be regarded as language that is now used in ‘ordinary conversation’ and does not ‘offend contemporary standards of decency’.


If you wish to run your mouth, sing along to the explicit version of Macklemore’s ‘Thrift Shop’ or more sensibly tell your mate they’re ‘fucking awesome’ or possibly that they actually are not, you’d be considered an Australian and not someone undertaking a pastime of offensive behaviour, because in this country not using the word appears the real offence. 



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