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This program contains material that may be disturbing to some viewers. Viewer discretion is advised.

Is that 100% correct English? This is the text shown before some TV programs. When I first saw it I thought it was weird (if you translate it to my language it sounds fake and very weird, plus it makes no sense).

Viewer discretion is advised.

makes no sense to me. Should I not talk about it with my friends, because it might be offensive to them? Should I first ask them if they are ok with ... the topic on the program?

It sounds like USA's political correctness pushed to the limit.

P.S. There is nothing bad about program I'm watching, but some people might find some images disgusting. In plus, it showed only the beginning, so if I start to watch a few seconds after that I might be disturbed.

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there is nothing about it when I do google search, but my english is not perfect. –  IAdapter Jan 31 '11 at 13:05
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7 Answers 7

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While it is very common, I find this sentence a bit ugly, and slightly incorrect. The noun adjective "viewer"—which I presume it must be—is ugly here, probably because it suggests that the entire noun phrase is a common term ("viewer discretion"), which I believe it wasn't until this formula was invented.

We could rephrase it as "we advise the viewer to use his discretion". We need "his" because the use of a noun adjective suggests possession. But "his / her / the King's discretion" is mostly said of people with some discretionary power, like a judge who has the right to make a decision based on his own judgement as opposed to on some external rule or power. Now, that is not what it is supposed to mean here; the phrase is somewhat misleading on that account.

What might have been intended was that the viewer should "use his own discretion" to decide whether he wanted to keep watching, which means his own ability to discern what the right course of action is in a given situation. But then we'd get "we advise the viewer to make a sensible decision": that is nearly a tautology. If this is the advice we get, then it is an out-of-control euphemism that hardly means anything. Moreover, the formula should then be "viewer's own discretion advised".

Alternatively, what is intended might be that the viewer should "use discretion": this means that he should be careful when considering his options, presumably because he will regret it if he doesn't give this decision the attention it deserves. This is the most reasonable explanation of the formula—but then it should have said "viewer is advised discretion": otherwise the viewer would be taken as the possessor of the discretion, which would take us back to "his discretion" as above. Moreover, "caution" would have been better then, because "discretion" usually means that you need to be careful in your behaviour with regard to its effect on others. In short, "viewer discretion", while not absurd or entirely impossible, is slightly off.

Using the passive voice in a notice like this—it may be a bit stiff, but it looks quite all right to me this way. It is clear that whoever is responsible for broadcasting the programme is advising the viewer.

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I'm not native speaker, but it looked off to me. My english is not perfect and I thought they meant that I should not tell anybody about it, because it might offend them. I had misunderstood that one word. thx for responce. –  IAdapter Feb 20 '11 at 15:44
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"Viewer discretion is advised"

So you, the viewer, are advised to use your discretion, as in consider whether watching the following program is what you really want to do.

Strangely, the TV channel people are not advising you to do this, however; it's just a sourceless admonition, since they've put it in the passive voice. In that respect the phrasing's a bit odd.

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Pragmatically, the TV channel people are advising you not to do this - they're just being a bit weasel-worded about it. –  PLL Jan 31 '11 at 17:02
    
The UK announcement tends to go with 'This show contains xxx which some viewers may find disturbing'. I prefer the phrasing - it's somehow a bit more human - even though it's even further from an instruction in some sense. –  ijw Jan 31 '11 at 19:29
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Yes, it is correct English.

'Discretion' in this case means 'judgment' or 'discernment'.

It is advising you to judge for yourself whether or not you want to continue watching, given the warning provided.

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but you do agree that it written to sound odd or is it the best way you can formally write it? I do understand that its a very formal english sentence. –  IAdapter Jan 31 '11 at 14:11
    
It's neither odd nor particularly formal as it happens. It could be less formal - "Hey, some people might not like a few bits in this. Make up your own mind!" - but it's not overly so. –  user3444 Jan 31 '11 at 14:29
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@010: it does sound slightly stilted and formal to me, but not particularly for grammatical reasons: the strangeness is from the meaning, from the bureaucratic choice to word it in such a way that nobody takes responsibility for giving the advice. –  PLL Jan 31 '11 at 17:06
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@PLL: Nor is the advice specific enough to be of any use. –  dmckee Jan 31 '11 at 18:11
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It is mostly legalese intended to indemnify the station, network, actors, directors, producers, companies buying ad space during the show, and anyone else who may be loosely associated with the program, from litigation by people who are easily offended (or think they can win a frivolous law suit.)

The message gives concerned parents an opportunity to shield their children from imagery or words they may not want them to be subjected to. While most of the shows that have this warning at the beginning don't repeat the message later in the program, I have seen a few that repeat the message when returning from a commercial break, especially if the program content of the following segment is particularly sensitive.

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It is grammatically correct, but suffers from being in the unspecified passive voice. Exactly who is doing the advising?

Further ambiguity can be found in the ill-specified degree to which the material may be disturbing. Presumably I should send the four year old to bed before watching, but what about the eight year old? The teenager? Myself on account of not wanting nightmares for a week?

In short, I find the phase to be almost worthless.

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Actually, I think as an American I can shed some light on the subject, and it is not necessarily grammar related.

"Discretion" in this instance is a synonym for judgment, reason, as in, "Decide at your own discretion." Usually, when a play, a film, or (most commonly) a television show is presented, the creators of the show feel obligated, morally and in some cases legally, to make a summary of the content of what the viewer is about to see. There is little the government can do to censor the writers and actors if they want to include violent or heavily sexual content: this is part and parcel to creating art and otherwise so long as it is not off-the-charts graphic that it may make audiences flee in terror or disgust to the streets, all is well. (Equally there is not much it can do if the village idiot decides The Human Centipede is good family fun, but that is a whole other story.)

On the other hand, there is the issue of children. There are programs on television, plays, video games, and films in theatres that are just not suitable for a little one to watch: a little fellow needs his innocence to be preserved and it is not right to expose him to something that may not be intended for his enjoyment (not the target audience) or he is just emotionally or cognitively not ready to handle. Though the writers and actors cannot be held responsible for a parent's negligence (children are presumed to be their parents' responsibility in American law and society) they can be held responsible for not putting forth a warning.

There have been bad screw-ups in the past. For example, a lot of Spielberg's films from the 1980s were acceptable under the PG rating even though today they are not recommended as such-what happened? Answer: when he released Poltergeist, which had the PG rating, and later Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, also PG, parents assumed that these would be okay to bring their seven year olds to see; they had little reason to believe it wouldn't be too scary for the kids as Spielberg was riding high for making E.T. at the time. Unfortunately parents and children got the unpleasant surprise of witnessing a 5 year old girl being stolen from her family and getting sucked into a closet, and in the case of Indiana Jones, a man getting his heart cut out before being lowered into a fiery pit as a human sacrifice. Of course, it resulted in many children terrified of turning the lights out or screaming and bawling their little eyes out every time they heard the Indiana Jones Overture.

The pattern repeated itself later on television with some shows like Cops and Beavis and Butthead and later still with video games like Mortal Kombat and Doom. So better ratings systems and fair warning in the form of disclaimers like "viewer discretion is advised" became the compromise position between allowing the writers, animators, producers, and actors freedom of expression, and at the same time protecting the children from content that might not be good for them until they are older.

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"Viewer discretion" in this case means that the viewer (i.e. you, or the parent / guardian of children watching) should be 'discrete', which would probably mean something like 'change channels if you value your children's (or your own) mental health'. The dictionary definition on discrete isn't too clear about its meaning, though.

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No, 'discretion' is derived from 'discreet' rather than 'discrete' for starters, and the meaning in question is not directly related to 'discreet'. –  ijw Jan 31 '11 at 13:14
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You are looking at the wrong spelling. 'Discrete' means separate or distinct. 'Discreet' means circumspect judgment and is the appropriate spelling in this case. –  user3444 Jan 31 '11 at 13:16
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