Do you call it the F-word? Use asterisks instead of some of the letters? Substitute the word “expletive”? Or write it out in full?
Appellate opinions are more frequently choosing the last option, Law.com reports. Since 2006, the full word was quoted in about 445 federal appellate opinions, according to the publication’s search of court records. That’s about the same number of times the word was spelled out in the prior four decades combined.
Law.com spoke with judges for their take on use of the word. One judge who says he avoids obscenities in his opinions is U.S. District Judge Fred Biery of San Antonio, Texas. “This culture has become so coarse in many respects … I would never put that kind of stuff in a written opinion,” Biery told Law.com. “My father would turn me over his knee if I put that kind of language—that’s the way I was raised.”
Taking the other side, Judge Richard Posner of the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said it was absurd to hide profanity if it’s relevant to the case.
“Look at what judges deal with—you have murderers, people who steal hundreds of millions of dollars. To the extent that their activities are connected with obscenities, obscene messages, that’s part of the case,” Posner told Law.com. “The question is, is it germane? Is it helpful to the readers’ understanding of what was going on? Then you have to put it in.”
The story notes that some judges will write out the F-word in full, but not the N-word. Chief Judge Theodore McKee of the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Court of Appeals explained his thinking. The N-word, he said, is “not just an obscenity, but it is something that is suggestive of a kind of mindset that is incredibly hurtful to people.”