RIBALD [RIB-uhld] : to use coarse language, foul-mouthed


The internet is ablaze with the video of the first-day-on-the-job (and last!) news anchor at a Dakota tv station who didn’t know the mike was on yet and let loose with a pretty graphic comment.  Yes, he was fired after his first day.

David (Papi)  Ortiz, beloved Designated Hitter for the Red Sox, added an expletive adjective to his pro-Boston speech and was forgiven by the FCC because they saw his commentary as being filled with emotions following the bombing of the Boston Marathon.

It happens quite frequently, as it turns out.   Loose language either slips out by mistake on the public airwaves or is slipped in beneath the radar of the screening agencies.  There is an on-going debate as to whether foul language is appropriate for the ears of listeners (especially children.)   An amusing decision by the FCC is that it’s okay after 10:00 p.m., based upon the ludicrous understanding that children with sensitive ears are in bed by then. That’s a decision obviously written by someone over the age of 60 who credited Ozzie and Harriett as their research guideline.

There is no question that ribald language has made its way into American living rooms despite attempts by some to restrict it.   To be ribald, the material must meet certain standards:

The Supreme Court has established that, to be obscene, material must meet a three-pronged test:

  • An average person, applying contemporary community standards, must find that the material, as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest;
  • The material must depict or describe, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable law; and
  • The material, taken as a whole, must lack serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.*

This, of course, limits ribald language to matters of sexuality, although bathroom humor which includes most four-letter words, is somehow included in the thinking of the screeners.

It is amusing to remember that Jack Paar, the one-time host of the Late Show, was chastised for his reference to the term w.c., referring to a euphemism, water closet, for the word bathroom!   We’ve come a long way since those days, to a point where even sensitive people are generally non-plussed by an occasional “swear word.”  The hell/damn usage is now considered ordinary by most listeners.   And a whole new industry as arisen in the media world which employs 3 second delays and the often-sounded bleep.   Sometimes the bleep is more troublesome than the word itself.

To be ribald, however, something must be excessive.   It is a word from Old English and Latin which was more explicitly connected to words for copulation.   The bottom line for today is that something has to be pretty graphic to be subject to the charge of being ribald.   It’s often hard to separate it from ordinary, every-day speech.  Lamentably.


Cartoon Credit:  Mickey Bach

*Supreme Court regulations

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