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language is a virus

maura @ 4:50 pm

We are having a bit of an issue with swearing here lately. It’s not surprising, really: Gus rides the schoolbus along with lots of other kids ages 5-11 from his school (and, this year, other schools! thank you, budget cuts, for doubling the length of my kid’s morning bus ride). The older kids mess around with curse words, as kids hanging out (mostly) by themselves are wont to do. The younger kids hear them. Gus has known *all* the words (yes, we tested him) for many years now.

Up until this year whatever swearing happened seemed to happen only on the bus or at recess, basically places where adults couldn’t/didn’t hear it. But lately the blue language has been creeping into everyday life.

At first we decided to decriminalize “crap.” We figured that it’s only just barely a swear word, anyway, and it sounds so funny when you say it with a Scottish accent (which I can’t do — can’t roll my Rs to save my life — but G + J can). And we thought that the family legality of one acceptable swear would keep the unacceptable alternatives at bay. That worked fine for a while, but then we realized that crap is sort of a gateway drug, as lots of other sweary language started happening.

It’s the fake swearing that drives me the most batty. Sometimes he’ll say “bleep” as in “that Pokemon bleeping killed me!” Other times he just uses the first letter — “oh D!” — as if we don’t know what that means! Argh, it makes me crazy.

So now we are trying to cut the crap, as it were, in hopes of squashing the swearing altogether. Of course us grownups swear too, though we’ve tried to keep it squeaky clean around the sprog since toddlerhood, when he got old enough to start repeating them back to us. But we do curse when he’s not around, at varying levels of curseyness.

I sometimes try to convince Gus to make up his own swear words, a la Little Pete (e.g. “gutbuckets!”), because it’s so uncreative to rely on the standard curses. I’ve also been known to tell him that it’s embarrassing for parents when their kids swear, which has had mixed results, predictably.

It’s got me thinking about swearing in general. Why is it bad for kids to swear, exactly? (Most) adults know when to swear and when not, but if it’s bad for kids maybe it’s bad for us, too. Is it lazy? Probably, but sometimes that swear word just fits the situation so, so well.

(I want to end this with “damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” but that’s too easy, right?)

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3 comments on “language is a virus”

Anne (26 March 2011 at 4:31 pm)

Hmm. I swear (!) Alexander knew how to swear when he was a baby. He didn’t know English until after he turned two, but he used to make these baby-cuss word sounds.

I think he said “shit!” in the library when he was having trouble with the Lincoln Logs. Lincoln Logs are difficult, though, so I didn’t blame him.

Madeleine’s favorite adjectives are “stupid” and “ugly.” She tried to call her brother (A. not M.) “stupid,” but knew she’d get in trouble so she shortened it to “stu!” “What? I just called him ‘stu!'” Hmmm.

maura (28 March 2011 at 9:43 pm)

Ha, MJ can come to Gus’s school of shortening/substituting curse words anytime!

Anne (29 March 2011 at 6:55 pm)

A. miiiiiiight’ve cursed during his guitar lesson. I pretended he didn’t!

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