'Mild' swearing allowed in PG films as censors publish first guide for parents

10 June 2021, 07:31 | Updated: 10 June 2021, 07:43

The BBFC has explained how swearing affects film classifications in a new guide for parents
The BBFC has explained how swearing affects film classifications in a new guide for parents. Picture: PA

By Asher McShane

Films classified as PG can contain "mild" expletives like s***, b******, b******s, and a***, according to censors who have published for the first time a guide to the terms parents can expect to hear in the U, PG and 12A/12 categories.

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) today released new research into "attitudes towards swearing" which shows that while the use of strong language is on the rise, parents are keen to protect their children and do not want to see increased use of strong language.

The BBFC said that at PG level, they only allow ‘mild bad language’.

"If words are used in an aggressive or very frequent way, then this might result in the content being rated higher," the BBFC said.

They cited an example in the film Back to the Future where Marty McFly uses the term "holy s***" during an action scene. It merits a PG rating as it is the only time the term is used in the whole film.

For U films the BBFC said the research showed most parents were comfortable with “damn,” “hell,” “God,” “butt,” and “jerk."

Research carried out on behalf of the BBFC concluded that adults do not want to see more coarse or offensive words.

A study was commissioned to find out if parents would accept more frequent use of strong and very strong language in the 12 and 15 categories.

The survey indicated that for six in 10 respondents swearing is part of their daily life, with nearly a third (30%) saying they use strong language more than five years ago.

Six in 10 respondents (61%) said that while they are comfortable using strong language with friends, they refrain from doing so if children can hear.

Only one in five said they were comfortable swearing in front of children under 16 at home.

The research also indicated that how words are used raises more concerns among parents than what is said, with language feeling more "adult" when directly targeted at an individual or used in an aggressive way - especially when used in a sexually violent manner.

It suggested a generational divide when it comes to swearing, with nearly half (46%) of Generation Z respondents frequently using strong language daily, compared to only one in 10 (12%) of 55 to 64-year-olds and one in eight (12%) of over-65s.

According to the results, a quarter (25%) of 16 to 24-year-olds said they would never use strong language in public, compared to a majority of over-65s (75%).

BBFC chief executive David Austin said: "Children are watching more content on multiple screens, and their parents want to protect them from strong and very strong language wherever they can and for as long as possible.

"Parents told us they are keen for media industries to share the responsibility - and that's where we come in.

"Very strong language retains an innate shock value, and for some remains the last taboo.

"While it can occur in a variety of contexts, including comic and colloquial, it has a particularly distressing potency when used towards women - so it's reassuring to hear people think we are getting it right when it comes to classifying these words."

The BBFC has also published a guide to what terms parents can expect to hear in films and TV shows in the U, PG and 12A/12 categories.

It classifies words including f*** as strong language and c*** as very strong.

Acronyms that refer to expletives, such as WTF (What the f***), are classified as if they are the words in full, after respondents said they felt the meaning is rarely lost on viewers.

Magenta's research consisted of 76 participants who watched and reviewed films over 10 days, 17 online focus groups with a total of 66 participants, and an online survey of 1,000 adults aged 18 plus across the UK with field work from November 24 to 26 2020.

It then drew conclusions from the combined data sets.