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