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.
When my son was little, he once got in trouble and when we asked him what he needed to do in the future he said, “I need to be more refucktful.” My husband and I could barely keep it together! He too, was in the stage where consonent blends like /sp/ were impossible to string together, so an /f/ worked. Funny how it does for so many things!
Hilarious! That’s a good word to save for a rainy day.