'Bullshit" is all over the place. Any child in America could have looked at a TV on Thursday and seen the forbidden word superimposed across TV anchor Wolf Blitzer's tie: "Seething Trump accuses Representative Adam Schiff of treason, denounces impeachment inquiry as 'Bullshit'."

The Washington Post printed "bullshit" at least five times that day and continues to do so. So did other news organisations as they reported on an especially angry and profane rant by President Donald Trump.

If the word emanated from almost any other person, it would be considered not fit for repetition, let alone mass broadcast, under puritanical standards of decency.

But because this particular instance of "bullshit" issued from the leader of the United States, it can and possibly even must be shared verbatim with the world.


"It is newsworthy that he wrote it and tweeted it out, and we should show and say it because the president sent it out just that way," an internal CNN memo advised last week, according to the New York Times.

Before Trump's "bullshit," there was his "shithole countries," and before that, there was "grab them by the pussy" — all disseminated and debated in public as if they were the names of tax bills.

Not to mention Trump's rallies, where cusses fall from his mouth like so many Big Mac crumbs.

Democrats are swearing too now, as if in retaliation. "F — me," Representative Tim Ryan wrote in an August 5 tweet about the president, who had just misidentified the site of a mass shooting. (Ryan left the rest of the word out, if that makes it any more decorous.)

Presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke routinely drops F-bombs when he talks about gun violence, and his campaign sells T-shirts quoting his curses.

Cory Booker's campaign manager tweeted a screenshot of a text of Booker swearing about Trump, as if we needed to see it that badly.

The Democratic National Committee reportedly warned the candidates not to curse at last month's televised debate. Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg both said "damn" anyway.

The Parents Television Council, which historically has been concerned with cleaning up Hollywood and Super Bowl halftime shows, is urging news broadcasters to be mindful of the words they quote when children might be watching.


"We are also calling on our elected and appointed officials across the political spectrum to recognise the exemplary role they play for children and to tone down the profanity and to use smarter words," the council's president, Tim Winter, told the Washington Post.

"Perhaps our nation can use this sudden infatuation for harsh profanity as a learning moment and identify words that can more precisely identify our sentiments."

Perhaps, but it feels more like we're drifting toward the rhetorical hellscape imagined in the movie Idiocracy, in which President Camacho begins his State of the Union address: "Shit. I know shit's bad right now."

Columbia University linguistics professor John McWhorter thinks our sweary public discourse reflects evolving standards of decency as much as the president's potty mouth.

"What genuinely registers as profane to most Americans is now slurs rather than references to bodily matters such as sex," he said.

Donald Trump's potty mouth rants lower the bar for US. Photo / AP
Donald Trump's potty mouth rants lower the bar for US. Photo / AP

"It's natural that serious public figures will use the classic four-letter words ever more to signal authenticity. But Trump's speech has mainstreamed such words in the media even faster of late, in that the urgency of reporting the appalling things he says requires that 'shithole country' and 'I'm f***ed' end up all over the news."

No other president has cursed like Trump: Publicly, constantly and even creatively, as when he dubbed Representative Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, "little Adam Schitt".

His predecessors were hardly altar boys, but they tended to swear sparingly or exclusively in private.

Abraham Lincoln liked to tell a joke about George Washington's effect on an Englishman's bowels.

George W. Bush was once caught on a hot mic calling a reporter a "major league asshole," and Barack Obama joked to the US women's soccer team: "Playing like a girl means you're a badass. Perhaps I shouldn't have used that phrase."

The White House tapes that helped bring down Richard Nixon were full of curses and racial slurs, but it notably took congressional intervention and a subpoena before the public could hear any of them.

Trump just gives his profanity away — freely seeding it across the cultural landscape.

"This is very different. We're coming to a point where it's not unusual at all to hear politicians and TV hosts cursing," said Julian Zelizer, a presidential historian at Princeton University.

"If the president is doing it, that becomes totally legitimate, totally normalised. There's no hot mic needed, because they'll just do it right in your face."