When my boys were growing up they learned rude words from their classmates (school is an education) and naturally I tried to filter out the most offensive. When a four letter word slipped out of their mouths I would always say “Please don’t say that.” After I explained that their meaning was offensive, and if it became their familiar vocabulary it would inevitably slip out when they didn’t want it to (like in front of a teacher), they were pretty accommodating. Their father however replied to my request not to swear in front of the children (without prevarication) “I’ll effing well swear if I want to!” – two parental styles which the boys responded to and refrained from swearing.
My second husband swore casually but with good humor, and I learned that it’s all in the delivery. I tried to curb him too, protesting that the shock value which had originally appealed to him was lost when it littered his sentences. He was a linguist, fluent in four languages, so he wasn’t short of words, he just enjoyed the emphasis. He cheerfully continued, and after all, it was his cheerfulness which attracted me to the man.
Eventually, spending time in his entertaining company, I became so inured that his vocabulary seeped into mine. When that marriage ended in divorce too, I kept the words.
Then my boys (by now grown up) began to say “Oh Mum,” in dismay, whenever one of these choice expletives escaped my lips. They were genuinely sorry to hear me utter them, but familiarity had made them my friends. Sometimes they add to the language like salt to a stew: season with discrimination.
In Virginia I’ve noticed that not only do people hardly drink alcohol, they don’t swear. They don’t express vehement opinions, mostly avoid talk about politics or religion for fear of starting an argument, and altogether they seem a bit bland. This is the Bible belt with its attendant virtues. There are no bars in the town where I live and people apparently go to bed early. Some do carry guns and abuse children, shoplift and vote for idiots, but they seldom swear.
I miss the expletives. There are occasions when only a rude word will do. If your parachute caught fire half way to earth, would you say “Oh bother”? If an articulated vehicle overturned and flattened the back seat of your car, would “damn” do? When you’re sitting in your tent while hunting and a cross bear gets between you and your rifle…..when you’re surfing and a shark nibbles your surfboard…when a whale decides to do a belly flop right beside your kayak….there is only one response: F-f-fear.
My ten year old grandson looked worried recently when he told me he had accidentally said the “F” word. His eyes were saucers of concern and his cheeks were blushing pink. “Don’t worry about it,” I said, smiling, “You need to know that it’s not a good word so you don’t say it in conversation, but it’s not a sin, it’s just a word.”
His seven year old brother said “Granny, I think I know what the “F” word is.”
“Yes?” I said, “You can tell me.”
He whispered in my ear “Fart.” “Oh, right,” I said, and we changed the subject.