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Which words are offensive?
Most groups, especially African-Americans, find use of some words in these situations extremely offensive

by Tracey McNerney

Over half (54 percent) of those polled felt that actor Isaiah Washington’s use of ‘faggot’ was offensive.
ROCHESTER, N.Y. — At the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s 98th annual convention held July 11, a “burial” was held. It was symbolic, but, nevertheless, the infamous “n-word” was declared to be “buried.”

As actions like this occur across the country, The Harris Poll, a market research company that specializes in public opinion research using both telephone and online surveys on online panels, confirmed that large majorities of the U.S. adult public find the use of certain terms to be offensive. Despite these feelings, few adults feel that the government should ban the use of such language on television or radio. Most feel that either the broadcasters should set their own standards or the individuals should exercise greater self-monitoring about what is appropriate. Also in response to recent events where well-known personalities such as Don Imus, Michael Richards, Mel Gibson, Isaiah Washington and Rush Limbaugh used questionable language in public, the online service Harris Interactive designed a special survey to gauge the public’s opinion regarding which words and situations were considered offensive.

Before asking for people’s reactions to these situations, they were first queried to determine their willingness to participate in the survey. The question was: “Some of the terms we present to you to evaluate in the next few screens you may find offensive. Would you be willing to answer this section or do you want to skip this section?” Nine in 10 (89 percent) said that they would be willing to answer the questions while one in ten (11 percent) opted to skip the section.
These are some of the results of a Harris Poll of 2,383 U.S. adults surveyed by Harris Interactive.

Which events are found to be most offensive?

The survey explored which of the following events by celebrities generated the most offense. Almost two-thirds (64 percent) found radio personality Don Imus’ calling Rutgers’ female basketball players “nappy-headed hos” to be offensive with 29 percent saying it was extremely offensive.

• Seven in 10 (69 percent) said that actor/comedian Michael Richards’ use of the word “nigger” was offensive (30 percent extremely offensive)

• Six in 10 (63 percent) found actor Mel Gibson’s use of Jewish slurs to be offensive (22 percent extremely offensive)

• Over half (54 percent) felt that actor Isaiah Washington’s use of “faggot” was offensive (18 percent extremely offensive)

• Radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh’s reference to Sen. Barack Obama as ‘Obama Osama’ was thought to be offensive by 50 percent (16 percent extremely offensive)

• A lower 37 percent said that politician George Allen’s use of the term “Maccaca” at a political rally was offensive (12 percent were extremely offended).

Similarly, some groups were more offended than others. For example, very large majorities of African-Americans were extremely or very offended by Don Imus (88 percent) and Michael Richards (83 percent). Two-thirds (66 percent) of LGBT adults were extremely or very offended by Isaiah Washington.

What can government do about offensive language?

Despite the strong negative reaction about the use of certain words, the U.S. adult public has somewhat mixed feelings about what should be done to prevent the use of such language. Just over a quarter (27 percent) thinks that the government should ban offensive words on television or radio. However, a third (34 percent) feels that offensive words shouldn’t be banned but broadcasters should set their own standards for respectful and appropriate language. Finally, three in ten (30 percent) U.S. adults feel that individuals should self-monitor and screen for what they consider appropriate.

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