Posted by: reisendame | November 12, 2007

what are we allowed to say? and, where?


I was born in Virginia and half of my family lives there, so I’m no stranger to the area.

I was used to taking in the Blue Ridge and the town shops, but once I had my license and drove during my visits, I inevitably looked at the road more. Then I saw more vanity plates than I’d ever seen before.

When I was down south, every time I was on the road, I noticed at least a few personalized licenses, the most notable ranging from “HELLYA” to “DNTLSST” to “PIMPN.”

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This is why I’m not at all surprised by the fact that the Commonwealth of Virginia boasts about 10% of all the vanity plates in all of America. MSNBC reports that these only cost $10 in Virginia, but in Illinois (which actually has the largest total number), they cost $78 per year.

For most of those who own them, personalized plates are all in good fun, but it seems that states are having trouble drawing the line between the PC and the obscene (or “just plain inappropriate.”)

A state like Virginia relies on the Word Committee (a 12-member panel of the Department of Motor Vehicles) to review questionable plates that have drawn resident complaints or have been flagged by a computer program that reviews proposed plate content.


Right now, the committee is reviewing the case of one gay man in Virginia who, for over 11 years, drove with plates stating “poofter.” This man, David Phillips, knows fully well that “poofter” is British slang for a gay man, and holds that “it’s just an amusing word I self-identify with.”


While Phillips faces the criminal charges, some cases do slip between the cracks. This summer, I happened to notice one plate, in particular, that simply read “HONKY.” Could this word not be found equally offensive to some people?

Bumper stickers are another issue. While these mini-statements don’t technically require government approval, they can be just as, if not more so, offensive or derisive.



I’m not sure what the point is, but it’s just funny how the criminalization of certain license plate sayings isn’t consistent at all, so who shouldn’t have one he or she likes?

Learn More: The First Amendment Center on License Plates

Article: One Woman’s Message Misunderstood

Video: “Why Personalize Your Plates?”



  1. The word “prevalence” has a lot of prevalence in your writings.

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