Strange piece from Eurosavant about attitudes to what used to be called foul language in the Netherlands:
It's Sunday, so let me take break...........and consider what's in the Dutch press. Ironically, the Dutch press doesn't publish on Sunday. While in the US Sunday is the day for the often-massive Sunday newspaper editions (the New York Times tops the scales, probably at several kilograms, but many others are almost as big), and even Germany has its special Sunday papers (e.g. Welt am Sonntag), in Holland there's still that strong Dutch Reformed Church/Calvinist tradition of no work on Sunday. When it came to Dutch topics treated in the Dutch press, what particularly struck me this Sunday were reports about the resurgence of that ages-old threat to public order here: that's right, swearing (i.e. uttering naughty words, in public).
Although there may not (yet) be any government watch-dog agency to keep such (mentally) unhygienic practices in check (like the public health authorities stand guard against communicable diseases), there does at least exist the Bond tegen het Vloeken ("League against Swearing"), a non-governmental organization that attends to these things.
Recently this Bond tegen het Vloeken struck again! It hired the research bureau TNS NIPO ("the market leader in the Netherlands" according to its website) to get together a bunch of TVs, tune in to all the various TV channels broadcast in the Netherlands (over the ether and over cable), and count "the amount of maledictions, curses, terms of abuse, and dirty words [that's my translation of "het aantal vloeken, verwensingen en scheld- en schuttingwoorden"] that were uttered on TV between 8:00 AM and midnight," according to the Algemeen Dagblad.
That a mainstream newspaper like the AD would take up this report shows that it is a mainstream news topic in the Netherlands. Naturally, for their part the religious newspapers have already been all over this story, even though the full TNS NIPO report isn't due to be published until later on this week. The Nederlands Dagblad has all the available details: The public (state-supported) TV channel BNN ("Bart News Network" - please don't ask where that comes from) tops the swearing league, with 6,4 occasions per hour. The NPS (Nederlandse Programma Stichting), also a public station, comes in second, with 3,2 per hour. Veronica, a private, commercial station is third with 2,9 per hour. What's more, ten percent of the swearing caught by TNS NIPO occurred during cartoons broadcast in the middle of the day; our friends at the Bond tegen het Vloeken call that opvallend ("striking").
I wrote on EuroSavant a while back (here) along the lines of "happy be the land whose greatest threats to public order are swearing, rheumatism, and the worm-like proliferation of underground cables." Luckily, this unbridled wave of foul-mouthedness that threatens the Dutch commonweal doesn't bother me directly, since I don't own and therefore don't watch TV. (I had to do a little Internet research just to be able to knowledgeably mention - or fake it, as the case may be - the Dutch TV stations listed above. Frankly, what I would like to see is a whole lot less spitting in public here!) In the US, you have your "Seven Dirty Words" prohibited by the Supreme Court (with the result that everyone knows them), and then that's it. But here we have the conscientious guardians of the public morals in the Bond tegen het Vloeken. I really think I'm living in a very special place.
Meantime a piece up on Margy's Page gives a rather different angle on the social role of swearing in a Balkan context:
A train somewhere between .id and Belgrade. Six of us travellers are sitting in the cabin. Six strangers. But when a young man who is just finishing police academy finds out that I am from Slovenia, the cabin comes alive. A hapless guardsman, an unemployed hulk of a man, a geography teacher, a retired railroad man and an elderly grandmother
all begin asking questions, chatting and enjoying the foreigner's presence.
Since 1990, not a single one of them has gone any further than the first town across the Hungarian border. "What do you think of us? What do you do? How did you end up here?" The grandmother cannot believe her ears when I tell her that I am going to an international conference about Serbian swear words in Novi Sad. "Uuu, tell us why there is such swearing here?" It is true, swear words are special words which we use sometimes as an attacking sword, other times as a
shield to defend ourselves from the enemies around us, I say as I try to explain this sociolinguistic phenomenon in popular speech..................