Not In Front Of The Kids
April 25, 2014

Not In Front Of The Kids

Swearing, cursing, and bad language in general have their place. Power words like those usually thought of as swear words get thrown about all the time, but, depending on how they are used, they can be fun, scary, insulting, vicious, acceptable or unacceptable and when used too much, just downright boring. Mostly though, society frowns on the use of swear words by children and most of us have seen that reaction – usually a mixture of shock and repressed mirth – when the innocent little kid comes out with a nice juicy one. The parents have probably tried to avoid swearing in front of their kids, hence the horror. “Where did he/she get that from?” they wonder. Now new research into children’s cursing seems to suggest that parents who don’t swear in front of their offspring in the hope they don’t pick up the cussing are wasting their time. They are going to learn this stuff anyway. It appears to enter their vocabulary as if by magic. By the time they get to 5 or 6 they are armed with a good array of “bad” words. Though the parents don’t seem to be able to prevent this, what they can do, the research suggests, is to equip the children with an understanding of how and why bad language causes offense.

I don’t know for sure where I learned to swear, but I must have picked it up early and it got me into trouble a couple of times when I was a kid. It seems tough to blame an innocent cage bird, but I do remember my grandmother’s budgerigar “Peter” repeating the words “Bloody Jacky, Bloody Jacky” and “Bloody Jacky’s here” ad nauseum. Jacky was my granddad and I think Peter picked this up from my gran who would say the same phrase, “Bloody Jacky’s here”, when the old guy rolled in from the pub on his day off from working underground as a coal miner. Maybe that’s why I got my first lesson in inappropriate words – there’s a right time and a wrong time for swearing. I was at Nursery School – a preschool for 3- to 4-year-olds before full time school at 5. They had a few musical instruments; triangles, whistles, bells – all that stuff. But I liked the snare drum best and got to play it every time we had a music session. Until one day the teachers gave the drum to another boy. I went into a big sulk and shouted, “It’s my bloody drum!” Not too bad you would have thought. My sadistic minders thought otherwise. One of them, a very stern lady, tried to pull my ear off as she marched me to the bathrooms, one of those school blocks with a long row of tiny sinks at miniature human level. Then she broke off a piece of the Coal Tar soap that we used to wash our hands, stuck it in my mouth, and made me eat it. It was of course quite disgusting. I mean the smell of that soap was bad enough, but trust me, you don’t want it on your menu. She even made me swallow it. Apparently, according to her warped and cruel mind, it was going to “clean out my dirty mouth.” Thanks, Peter, thanks a lot you dumb budgie. What trauma – I carried it for years and as a small boy had a constant dread of soap and drums. Even as a teenager, when me and my mates formed rubbish bands with our cheap guitars, I would always say, “OK, but no drummer, right?” although I never actually stipulated “no soap.”

So I learned the hard way. Words have power. Use them in the right setting and they kick like a mule. Use them in the wrong place and they will cause you problems. Nowadays I rarely swear, put off by the constant barrage of repetitive swear words I hear when I am out. It just gets boring. After all, we’re not budgies are we?

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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Eric Hopton is a writer, musician, artist, and photographer. He has a degree in Social Anthropology and has always been passionate about travel, having so far visited 73 countries. His music and sound work has been used in many projects around the world and can be heard on Bandcamp and Freesound, where he has contributed over 1,300 sounds under his sonic alter ego, ERH.

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