News & Politics

Arlington Cracks Down on Salty Language

Watch your mouth or pay a $250 fine.

Photograph via Shutterstock.

Uttering some of the more expressive words in the English language will cost you up to $250 if you say them in Arlington, now that county officials have upped their fines on public uses of profanity. The Arlington County Board just approved a measure increasing penalties for public intoxication and blue language from $100 to $250.

Even if Arlington is sacrificing its reputation as an urbanist’s dream community, its leaders have not given up their mission to clean up its residents sometimes-naughty antics. The code change adopted during Saturday’s board meeting came after the Arlington Police Department reported making 664 arrests for public inebriation and foul-mouthed talk in 2014.

Officials did not specify how many of those arrests were of people running their mouths, but Arlington has been concerned with public displays of lewdness for a while. Arlington, once a frequent site of organized bar crawls, cracked down on the festivities last year after several events ended in brawls, public urination, and at least one instance of a man taking off all his clothes and jumping into a car to flee police. (He didn’t make it very far.)

The revised regulation replaces the word “drunkenness” with “intoxication” to include people who appear to be affected by substances other than alcohol.

But just because Arlington is upping its punishment for bad language doesn’t mean you can curse up a storm in Fairfax County or Alexandria. The ordinance adopted Saturday actually brings Arlington in line with Virginia state law, which has long classified public intoxication or profanity as a Class 4 misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $250.

Arlingtonians who don’t want to replace their bawdy slang with namby-pamby minced oaths can go elsewhere in the region. While the District bans abusive language designed to provoke a physical response from another individual, it does not prohibit casual profanity. Maryland also offers safe harbor to the salty-tongued, except for Rockville, where the city charter reads, “person may not profanely curse and swear or use obscene language upon or near any street, sidewalk or highway within the hearing of persons passing by, upon or along such street, sidewalk or highway.”

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.