This week I was presented with a challenge: to write something about or inspired by a recent article on the origin of swear words. I’m a believer that one well-placed swear word can be more effective than a foul tirade, so I was happy to take on the task. As the title suggests, there will be swearing (sorry Mom and Dad).
I can still remember the first time I said a cuss word. I’ll set the stage: elementary school, sometime around 1980. A few friends and I were playing at recess and noticed that there were words spray painted on the side of the school building. (Needless to say it was a sketchy elementary school, but that’s a post for another day.) Anyhow, I used my brand-new phonics skills to sound out the words on the wall. I had never seen them before, and had no inkling about what they meant. My eight-year-old colleagues, however, knew that I was uttering forbidden words. “Ooooooooo,” they said, totally impressed with my bravery, “read it again!” Of course I did, because that made me a third-grade hero.
Once I learned what the words meant, they slithered into and out of my vocabulary as occasion and company called for it. Now, though, I’ve been dialing it back to almost zero. I have little ears to consider. For example, upon missing a green light at an intersection, one might hear a tiny “fuck!” from the infant seat behind you. Or an emphatic “shit!” as a copy of Goodnight Moon is accidentally dropped on a toe. (I promise neither of these examples have actually happened to me. Yet.)
For a flash it’s super cute. Then the parent guilt kicks in — am I raising the kid who teaches his classmates what a bastard is? It is already ridiculously hard to stifle my laughter when Grady pronounces “truck” with an f instead of a th. Or when he refers to Thomas the Tank Engine’s best friend as Poosy instead of Percy. I know he’ll grow out of it, and all I have to do is hold it together until this phase passes. And if it doesn’t, I fully expect to be called into the principal’s office when the boys start kindergarten. Crap.