Every now and then, says Shortland Street script editor Nick Malmholt, there is a word you simply can't use. Use it and you'll never eat lunch in this ****ing town again.

In the soap's early days, it was the 'p' word.

That is 'p' for placenta. 'Placenta' was famously cut from a birth scene on Shorty St before it even had the chance to scandalise the nation. It was banned from going to air by a TVNZ representative, said Maxine Fleming, a Shortland Street producer who was part of the original storylining team.

"And there were other examples of biological terms deemed unseemly for the time slot," she said.


That tends not to be the case today, she said.

"After all, this is the year where the famous cliffhanger line 'Please tell me that is not your penis' went viral. Who knows if that word would have made it through in the early years?"

As New Zealand's longest running soap celebrates 25 years this week, rules around what's acceptable to say on television have relaxed.

The Broadcasting Standards Authority has issued 24 decisions on complaints about Shortland Street and it has upheld four. The majority have related to sexual activity and/or violence. None of the complaints raised concerns specifically about language, according to a spokesperson for the watchdog.

Swearing has, however, been raised in other cases. In a recent decision about a 6pm news bulletin, the authority did not uphold a complaint about interviewees' use of expressions such as "piece of piss" and "s***".

The authority said that "the expressions reflected the interviewee's choice of language to convey their response to the issues discussed".

In contrast, in a 1996 decision from the authority, it considered a complaint about the use of the phrase "stop pissing around" during a promo for an upcoming episode of Goodnight Sweetheart, which was broadcast at 7.05pm during PGR time.

That complaint, which related to language used in fiction, rather than news, was upheld. In that decision, the authority said the phrase was "not acceptable within the currently accepted language norms for all ages. It still has the potential to shock the listener."


The authority considered that given the phrase was inappropriate for broadcast at a time when children could be watching television, and because caregivers had no opportunity to exercise control, the promo breached the good taste and decency standard.

Last year the BSA undertook research with focus groups on public attitudes to standards of good taste and decency.

The research revealed a tolerance around swearing - but a "heightened sensitivity" to potentially racist or sexist content.

The BSA's 2013 What Not to Swear research reveals that in 1999, 70 per cent of those surveyed found the F word "totally or fairly unacceptable" - and in 2013 50 per cent blanched at the word. However the C word is still considered unacceptable on the vileometre - 79 per cent found it offensive in 1999 compared with 70 per cent in 2013.

According to the chart we have become slightly more tolerant of the word 'n****' - in 2013, 65 per cent found it distasteful compared to 70 per cent in 1999. B**** was considered repellent in 1999 by 42 per cent, compared with 2013's, 28 per cent. In 2017, it's virtually considered a term of endearment.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, 'bugger' barely makes it to double figures on the register.
Placenta, however, was nowhere to be seen.

• See Speak Our Language