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Ocean City, Md. Looks To Curb Public Profanity

9:25 PM, Jan 20, 2014   |    comments
Photo: USA Today
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Brian Shane, USA TODAY

OCEAN CITY, Md. -- Leaders of this seaside resort town would prefer you keep that @&#$%! language to a minimum, please.

Councilwoman Mary Knight is proposing that Ocean City, Md., post signs asking pedestrians to cease from using profanity on its boardwalk. Knight said she's bringing it up as a result of constituent requests to explore the issue.

"It's just kind of a kindness campaign," Knight said. "I so believe in the First Amendment rights, but I also believe that when people are there, they don't need to hear really, really foul language. I'm talking about words that, I just think, your children don't need explained. I think the family that walks by and sees that will think, gosh, at least Ocean City's trying."

Knight said the idea for posting signage comes from Virginia Beach, where anti-swearing signs are posted along that resort town's boardwalk. Those Virginia Beach signs show grawlix - that's the word for typographical symbols used to stand in for non-specific profanity - with a red slash-through over the top of them.

According to Virginia law, it is a misdemeanor for anyone who "profanely curses or swears" in public. The same law makes it illegal to be drunk in public.

When it comes to signs aimed at curbing unwanted behavior, Ocean City Council President Lloyd Martin drew a parallel between public profanity and public smoking in years past.

"Even before there was a law that said you couldn't smoke inside, there were signs saying 'please no smoking' and people would usually obey them. Just having the signs helps, it really does," said Martin, who supports the plan. "It just reminds people to do the right thing, speak the right way. The boardwalk is a place for kids."

City Councilman Doug Cymek, chairman of the Police Commission, said resort officials are checking with police and administrators with Virginia Beach about their signs. Cymek said Virginia Beach officials said they feel the signs are effective in quieting things down. He'd like to see it launched in Ocean City as a pilot program.

"We clearly understand this is not going to be a law or an enforcement action on our part. This is strictly asking people for courtesy and consideration of others," Cymek said.

Ocean City's attorney Guy Ayres reminded the council that the First Amendment right to free speech prevents them from outlawing profanity in public places.

"What you think is foul language may not be what I think is foul language. You get into a very questionable area of constitutional law," he said.

Ayres said that if a person is being loud and drawing a crowd, and certain other things come into play, they may get charged with disorderly conduct, "but you're not arresting them for a word that's said."

Symbols such as @!#$% that stand in for curse words also may be called jarns, quimps and nittles, according to The Lexicon of Comicana, a tongue-in-cheek encyclopedia of comic book terms written by Beetle Bailey creator Mort Walker.



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