Cinematic Cursing: How the ‘F’ Word Became Common in PG-13 Movies

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Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone star in "Crazy Stupid Love"

No f___ing way, we did not see this coming.

Apparently, any PG-13 film is allowed one usage of a non-sexual F-word per script. Well, if recent anecdotal evidence is anything to go by, that has certainly changed.

At least three summer movies have taken advantage of what might be considered lax standards by slipping in a bunch of naughty terms. Ryan Gosling’s abs in Crazy Stupid Love get the F-reaction, as do the robots in Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Bryan Cranston in Tom Hanks’s pet project Larry Crowne.

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But what’s the reason for this (relative) explosion of expletives? Surely Hollywood hasn’t just decided to say f___ it and do as it damn well pleases? Probably not. The official edict from the MPAA’s (Motion Picture Association of America) Classification and Ratings Administration’s guidelines lays out that, “A motion picture’s single use of one of the harsher sexually-derived words, though only as an expletive, initially requires at least a PG-13 rating. More than one such expletive requires an R rating, as must even one of those words used in a sexual context.”

But (and didn’t you just know there would be a ‘but’ coming?) the guidelines also add that if two-thirds of the ratings board members hold the view that multiple F-words are being used in a legitimate “context or manner” or are “inconspicuous,” the film is still eligible for its PG-13 rating.

One would imagine that the popularity of R-rated flicks, such as The Hangover, must have helped little PG-13’s cause too. Once upon a time, the vulgarity that made it into an R would sound a death knell in terms of box office, but The Hangover bucked that trend, and perhaps everyone’s now cashing in on cursing.

“Making a PG-13 movie, it’s always a pick-and-choose battle of where do you want to use one because, often with improvisation, a couple of F-words will creep into the movie,” Crazy Stupid Love screenwriter Dan Fogelman told the Huffington Post. “So you want to pick the best one, the most appropriate one.”

(MORE: Before Crazy Stupid Love‘s Emma Stone was famous, she was nearly a Partridge)

The likes of The Social Network, The Tourist, The Adjustment Bureau, Iron Man 2 and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps are all pretty new movies that have gotten away with more than the one F-bomb and still landed that PG-13 rating (needless to say, this is crucial in terms of box office because more people are able to see these films). Clearly, Fogelman and his peers are getting way more bang for their buck. Or should that be bang for their…

Glen Levy is an Executive Producer at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @glenjl. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.