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@&*#!! Town introduces $20 fine for public profanity

The residents of Middleborough, Mass., are tired of foul language, so they've decided to do what many parents do – implement a swear jar.

According the Associated Press, residents voted 183 to 50 in favour of a proposal by the police chief to impose a $20 fine on cursing in public.

The measure isn't meant to muzzle casual or private conversations, the news agency reports. Rather, the target is (you guessed it) teens and other young people, who are perceived to use loud, profanity-peppered language in parks and other public places.

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"They'll sit on the bench and yell back and forth to each other with the foulest language. It's just so inappropriate," store owner Mimi Duphily told the Associated Press. She noted she expected some fallout, "but I think what we did was necessary."

Middleborough, population 20,000, has actually had a bylaw against public profanity since 1968, and an existing state law gives authorities the power to arrest people who address others with "profane or obscene language" in public. But since the effort of bringing such cases through the courts can be costly and time-consuming, the new measure is seen to be preferable, as it would allow police to simply write tickets for public profanity.

Matthew Segal of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts noted, however, that imposing a fine isn't much of an improvement on the bylaw.

"Police officers who never enforced the bylaw might be tempted to issue these fines, and people might end up getting fined for constitutionally protected speech," he said.

Added local store owner Robert Saquet: "In view of words commonly used in movies and cable TV, it's kind of hard to define exactly what is obscene."

Indeed, teens and young people are hardly the only ones guilty of using  foul language. And given how ubiquitous swearing is these days, Mr. Saquet has a point: where do you draw the line between what's acceptable and not?

Remember when U.S. vice president Joe Biden was caught on mic in 2010, telling president Barack Obama that his health care reform legislation was a big flipping deal, only in more colourful terms?

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Or in 2004, when then-vice-president Dick Cheney was overheard cursing at senator Patrick Leahy?

Canadian lawmakers and leaders are no less prone to letting slip the occasional obscenity in public

Would a fine deter you from swearing? Have you ever tried implementing a swear jar at home?

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About the Author

Wency Leung is a general assignment reporter for the Life section. Before joining The Globe in early 2010, she has worked as a reporter in Vancouver, Prague, and Phnom Penh. More

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