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Sunday, June 11, 2006

¿Qué Coño?
Back in March, PBS screened a Martin Scorsese-produced documentary, The Blues: Godfathers and Sons, which contained blues musicians using the words “sh_t” and “f_ck.” As a result, the Federal Communications Commission levied a fine of $15,000 against station KCSM-TV, which aired the doc. It’s part of an FCC crackdown against “indecency” on television.

So, how come I keep hearing the word “coño” on television? Yesterday I was watching an old episode of CSI: Miami, and a Latino hustler told his victim, “Watch me, coño.” Also this season, Fox’s Prison Break showed Lincoln’s cellmate, Sucre (played by Amaury Nolasco), feeling really frustrated by a phone call, slamming down the receiver, and yelling, “Coño!”

For anyone who doesn’t speak Spanish, “coño” translates to the English C-word, the one that rhymes with punt. In Spain it’s not a terribly taboo word—I’ve heard people use it to summon a waiter (when I last lived in Spain, in the early '90s, the “worst” word was hostia, which means “communion wafer”!)—but that’s not really the point. I’m sure it’s pretty offensive in most Spanish-speaking countries.

I’m not sure why this double standard bothers me so much. (And I’m maintaining it myself—I avoid English-language profanity, so as not to set off Net nanny software, but I’m not terribly worried about bad foreign language shutting me out.) If Tía Nelida isn’t complaining, what’s it to me?

Still, it seems wrong. Can’t shows do what the BBC did in the 1970s for Porridge, a sitcom set in a prison, and invent a curse word that expresses the strength of the speaker’s feelings but avoids actual offense?

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