I learned the word ‘shit’ by listening to my mother type. This was back in the 70’s, when the ink was on a reusable ribbon, and before white out had been invented. Mistakes were a big deal, and my mother vented her spleen in the process, esp when she was on a deadline. Add to this that my father, I kid you not, is practically physcially incapable of uttering the words ‘day’ or ‘door’ without prefacing them with the word ‘damn’, and I entered kindergarten with a fairly useful vocabulary. One that got me in trouble, I might add.
Skip forward ten years, to when I said the f-word to my mother, and got my mouth washed out with soap. Lava soap.
Ten years farther down the road I was teaching high school, and my students thought that every noun needed an adjective, and the only adjective they knew was ‘fucking.’
I don’t swear much, and not just because I don’t like to do it around my kids.
I like to save swearing for things that matter.
I told one particularly potty-mouthed class of mine that I didn’t mind them swearing as long as the situation warranted it; that there was a time and place for everything, and, in general, our class wan’t one of them. They grumbled, but thought it was reasonable, so went along with it. One day I gashed my hand open on a broken flask. I said “FUCK” vehemently, and with volume. A student came in from the class next door, took one look at my hand, and said “yup – all that blood definately makes this one of those times.”
Swear words are like any other vocabulary words; they have meanings, and, when used in context, can be powerful forms of expression. But they tend not to be used that way by recent generations; ‘fuck’ is the new ‘nice’ all of our English teachers told us to avoid overusing in our writing!
By saving swear words for when we *need* them, we preserve their power. Look at what has happened to the word ‘awesome’! It means ‘ok/good’ in our culture now, not something ‘awesome’ at all! This is much like the praise epidemic in our parenting culture; when kids get praise for raising their hands well, praise comes to mean nothing to them, and they have fewer ways of telling when someone is sincerely impressed.
When we utilize swears as common adjectives, we are removing our most effective tools for expressing real horror and anger. I see a correlation between kids who use vulgarity as part of their daily speech patterns and kids who tend to resort to violent and destructive behavior to express their anger and frustration, and I don’t think this is a coincidence.
For now, I try not to expose my kids to the run of the mill swearing I grew up with, but they do sometimes hear me, my husband, or another adult, on TV or in person, swearing *in context*. I tell them that it was a bad word, and that they aren’t to repeat it. If I said it, I apologize, and explain WHY I was angry/frustrated/horrified enough that I said it.
Beara went through a phase of saying ‘bam it’ when we’d just gotten home from my parents (whose language hasn’t changed much in 30+ years) having misheard them. (Thank goodness.) I asked her to say ‘blast it’ instead, arguing that adults who hear potty-mouthed children will likely think less of them, but that blast it could be said with the vehemence and outrage she seemed to need to express, without alienating the adults around her, or teaching other kids bad habits.
Yes, I was Bad Mom, and didn’t tell her how to pronounce it correctly. She doesn’t need to know. Yet. Her outrages are minor ones; ‘blast it’ will do for now.