Calm, Cool and Committed

Three Moms and a Dude


on August 30, 2012

By Mamma Fratelli

DISCLAIMER: This blog is about swearing. It contains profanity. I am a linguist, therefore, much like a proctologist, I am not offended by my subject matter. Rather, I see it as something to be studied. That said, not everyone wants to be a proctologist nor does everyone want to read the F word on a leisurely coffee break. If I’ve just described you, gentle listener, please stop here.

It’s every parent’s nightmare. You pull up to daycare and instead of getting a happy account of all the fantastic ways that your child is just the best and brightest, you are met with a stone-faced teacher holding the carbon copy of today’s report. Timmy said “oh, shit!” on the playground. No! Not your kid! Where the hell did he learn such language?!

The question, really, isn’t where but why. What makes four letter words so appealing to toddlers and pre-schoolers? Why does he say “one, two, fwee” but pronounce “damnit” so beautifully? It’s all in the malignant nature of the disease.


Profanity has stood the test of time because of its design. Most swear words are short and consonant heavy, making them deliciously relieving to say. Think about it. If you touch a hot pan, what’s the first thing you do? You hold your breath and either let it out slowly or scream. That hard exhale makes you feel better. Don’t believe me? Slam you finger with a hammer and yell “AIR!” or “HOUSE!” It’s not as satisfying as the hiss and snap of “SHIT”, is it?


Children love things that get a reaction. Their life is fairly mundane and repetitive: scrambled eggs, finger paints, nap time… But, wow! Do Mom and Dad ever put on a show when Suzy dumps her chocolate milk on the rug or drops the iPhone in the toilet. Again. You are your child’s model for how to react in every situation and you certainly don’t do that loud, funny faced dance when you say the word “coffee” so that word must not be as special as “shit.”


Profanity often comes with an opening act. Something exciting happens right before the word is uttered, setting the stage for a perfect learning opportunity. Perhaps a police car put on its bright lights like they do on TV and actually followed Billy’s Dad’s car! How exciting! Now the boy is paying attention. Then, Dad implements the absolute supreme second language acquisition device: clear, isolated pronunciation. Some words are hard to learn because they come buried in long sentences or they have too many awkward syllables. If parents would just do something flashy to get kids to look then clearly and loudly pronounce each syllable of “refrigerator” in a total vacuum, more toddlers would be spouting off the names of kitchen appliances instead of simple stuff like “light.”


The tables have turned. Not only do four letter words often come with volume, emotion and a spectacular display of body language, Mom and Dad turn into begging, pleading, bribing fools when their cherubim imitate them. Pre-schoolers have never been offered all the cookies they could ever want for not saying “doggie” ever again. Grandma doesn’t clutch her pearls when kiddos say “dolly.” Kids are often at the bottom of the totem pole. If they can get their crimson-faced parents in time out, you betcha they’re going to do it!


You let it slip. Not you. Not Ozzie and Harriet. This is a no swearing house but dammit, that one just flew out! How do we keep a lid on our dirty family secret? First, let me digress. If you swear at home, you are not alone. Many parents let one fly here or there, especially if they didn’t have a sterile vocabulary before Junior arrived. Four letter words are like cockleburs, they get in the fabric of your speech pattern and are near impossible to dig out. So, step one is:


Relax. Beating yourself up will only put you in a sour mood. The human brain interprets all stress the same whether physical or emotional. It shuts down unnecessary functions like digestion and logic (and the language centers in the brain) in favor of the more limbic functions like roaring and gnashing teeth. If you can just shift the electrical activity back to your cerebral cortex, all will be well.


Switch off the limelight. Just bury the word in a pile of other boring concepts and Kiddo will quickly lose interest. The worst thing you can do is add emphasis to your slip up by creating another moment of dead air followed by the death sentence: please-don’t-ever-say-that!


Toddlers abhor the mundane. I feel for Gaylord Focker when his toe-headed nephew parrots back “asssssss hoooooole.” If the lad had said “window,” Gay wouldn’t have put on such a show and repeating it wouldn’t have been so delightfully entertaining. So, pretend like the kid said, “window” (and warn your house guests to do the same).

What if your little ones aren’t so little? Be honest. Admit to them that swearing can be a sign of a poor vocabulary. Break out the thesaurus together and find some fun pseudo-swear words: “You curmudgeon! This is preposterous!” Make sure you also learn the definitions together! Then, hand over the power (they never outgrow that part). Every time they catch you saying a bad word, they get to “punish” you: make you do a silly dance, take them to the library, etc.


I don’t advise using sound-alikes in front of kids. Honestly, saying “Eff you!” has the same effect as “Fuck you!” Don’t believe me? Say it to your boss. Some euphemisms, or Granny Swears, are just part of our cultural lexicon and have taken on their own place in language: Darn it! Shoot! Geez! These all started as stand-ins for profanity. No doubt invented on the spot as some Colonial father touched a hot pan and said “Holy Shhhhhhhhhhhhh (think time) hhhhhhnikeys!” Yeah, his kid didn’t fall for it, either.


2 responses to “SugarHoneyIcedTea‏

  1. Ask A Great Dad says:

    I started a curse jar a while back, and it added up quickly. Nothing will get you to stop cursing faster than money leaving your pocket. I still have a terrible potty mouth, but now its not every other word and I am pausing before just letting them fly.

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