Indecent Language

Posted on May 25, 2018 | 0 comments


In January 1972, Kim Dalton was sentenced to 28 days imprisonment for using indecent language. He had apparently used the three words “f**k”, “f**ked” and “c**t” in Elder Park (an inner city Adelaide park on the banks of the Torrens). Well, it was 1972 and it was in Adelaide.

There was an appeal against sentence (see Dalton v Bartlett (1972) 3 SASR 549).

Hogarth J (at 556-557) seems to engage in some grammatical gymnastics to avoid putting the words into his judgment:

The words may be used simply to denote a feeling of hostility by the speaker to the hearer, or to fate in general, or to convey an emotion of anger or irritation. In many cases, they are completely neutral and devoid of meaning or emotional content. In some circles it seems to be a usage almost de rigueur in private conversation for the present participle of the verb in question to precede most nouns, even on so prosaic occasion as a request to pass the butter. This usage presumably arose from a desire to impress on the hearer the virility and masculinity of the speaker. But there is a continuous process by which language, like money, loses its value; and in this usage the word has lost all meaning. It may be full of sound and fury, but it signifies nothing.

….and….

In my personal experience (which involves hearing all three words used probably many thousands of times in the course of a period of some six years in the army during World War II) the words as most commonly used are almost always used in a sense which is not indecent. They may properly be characterised as either uncouth or offensive; I personally find them so on most occasions, particularly when used in public or in the presence of women. But in this case the appel­lant was not charged with the use of offensive language; and it is no offence to be uncouth. In any case, what is uncouth is merely a matter of personal opinion; and to establish that the words are offensive evidence of context and circumstance is necessary, just as in the case of alleged indecent use.

Creative commons acknowledgment for the photograph.

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