Any HBO show can drop an F-bomb. For a primetime comedy or drama on a major network, however, that obscenity is still considered off-limits. More than 40 years since George Carlin’s famous “Seven Dirty Words” monologue, broadcast TV stations remain prohibited from airing five of them: shit, fuck, cunt, cocksucker and motherfucker. (Sanctions against “piss” and “tits” have more or less been lifted). Still, for two-plus decades, series writers and increasingly cavalier executives have subverted the FCC with an assortment of bleeps and tricky pixelations (in which a character’s mouth is digitally fuzzed out to prevent viewers from lip-reading profanity), often in tandem and always for laughs. What was once the select, semi-risqué province of shows like Seinfeld has now become punchline fodder for a series like ABC’s The Goldbergs, a coming-of-age show set in 1980s suburbia that boasts almost weekly occurrences of scrambled expletives.
With that in mind, here are 10 landmark moments from the past 21 years of purposefully obscured network-sitcom swearing. (We’ve restored as many of the offending nouns, adjectives and verbs in our blurbs as we can, for posterity’s sake.) You may not have had actually heard the curse words in question, but as these scenes prove, maybe you didn’t need to — you already knew what the [bleep] these characters were saying.