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Writing songs for the Canadian market? Mind your language!

A 26 year old song has been banned from Canadian radio. Canadians are now protected from hearing an offensive word (three times in the same verse!)

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It is important not to cause offense these days, particularly when in some jurisdictions it is the person who is being offended who decides whether or not an offense has been caused.

Words can offend, there is no doubt of that, and most of us wouldn't dream of using certain words that are widely held as being offensive.

But words can change in their meanings, and the threshold of offensiveness changes over time.

So certain words that could have been used at one time may not be permissible now. Whether it is their meaning or their degree of offensiveness that has changed would be open for debate in individual cases.

So here's the song...

Cover your ears around 1.48, 1.56 and 2.00.

Well I'm not going to repeat the word here and get banned in Canada too, but I can tell you from a close and detailed reading of Wikipedia that it means a bundle of sticks and that no-one really knows why it has become a word that could cause offense.

However that isn't the point. If it is used as an offensive word, then it is offensive. I think that is reasonable to say.

What is unreasonable though is the banning of this song, or at least this verse, from the airwaves.

This song is unusual in that the lyrics are written in first person. And it is not the singer Mark Knopfler who is telling the story, it is a character he has invented.

So if the character is the person who is prone to the use of offensive language, then it is a feature of the art that is this song.

But according to the logic of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, you can't create fictional characters who use offensive language and incorporate their words into a song. Well you can, but it won't be broadcast.

Oh by the way, here's another song on the same topic. Once again the performers are singing in character. Cover your ears at 2.12...

Legend has it that when Shane MacGowan and Kirsty MacColl performed the song on Top of the Pops, as shown above, in December 1987, the BBC insisted that the word 'arse' should be replaced by 'ass', which in the UK means nothing other than a donkey. The other word remained. How times change...

By David Mellor Friday January 14, 2011
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