To Bleep, or Not to Bleep… That Is the Question


I can’t believe I’m [bleep]ing writing this post.

Profanity. You can’t stop people from using it, but you can obscure it from the poor, virginal ears of the easily offended and the FCC through the judicious use of bleeps or drops, bleeps being the tone that obscures a word and the drop being the simple removal of the word, leaving a quiet hole in its place while the speaker’s lips flap away either in front of or behind pixelation, depending on how seriously the network takes their swearing.

Standards and Practices is the happy little department at the network charged with instructing you, the reality storyteller / production company, as to which words must be handled in which way. They review cuts of the show and send back detailed lists of how they wish to have each f-bomb and s or c-word handled. But what do you do when they ask you to use your own judgement in choosing to handle their notes with a bleep or a drop?

I have a simple formula for deciding whether a bleep is called for, and it’s this… when it replaces a noun or is used for comic/shock effect. Let’s study the sample phrase “I’m gonna kick your [bleep], Charley.” Nine times out of ten, your brain will register it as a complete sentence, offering up its own suggestions for the missing noun. If you drop the bleep and leave a hole where the noun is, you’ll hear “I’m gonna kick your (pause) Charley.” The phrase is less clear. Bleeps replacing nouns are the way to go, as far as I’m concerned. Note your S&P department’s preference on how much of a word to bleep, too — sometimes they require the whole word to be masked, other times just the bulk of the word, leaving the opening or closing consonant sound exposed.

Now, let’s assume that someone says “I’m gonna kick your [expletive][bleep], Charley.” Probably best to go a second bleep there to cover the expletive, as a drop and a bleep in the same sentence can be confusing. If someone says, “I’m sick of getting the [expletive] runaround, Charley,” you are in the position where employing a drop doesn’t change the structure of the sentence.

Let me demonstrate that last point. Say this out loud: “I’m sick of getting the (pause) runaround, Charley.”

Did you notice it’s a complete sentence without the expletive? Dropping the word left the structure and intent of the sentence intact. Sure, you could have used a bleep, but a drop worked, too.

Watch a few shows and see what works or doesn’t for you. Too many bleeps can really wear you down. A poorly selected drop can screw things up, too.

Remember this handy rule: Bleep a noun, bleep an expletive that precedes a bleeped noun, drop an expletive that precedes an inoffensive noun.

Now, go make some [bleep]ing television!

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