I enjoy a good swear every once in a while. When I hurt myself. When someone cuts me off while I’m driving. When someone ticks me off.
Sometimes, swearing just feels good. I’m sure swear words must have been some of the first invented at the onset of human language. It’s a harmless way of getting rid of some immediate tension. It provides a verbal cue to others. It must be hardwired – because we all seem to need to swear at some time or other.
Still, I drew the line at swearing in front of my daughter. Not from my mouth would she learn words that would come out and embarrass me later. And for years I was diligent.
“Flip.” “Darn.” “Rats.” Those became the stand-ins for words which were much more satisfying.
Even when I hurt myself. Even when a driver cut me off and I had to brake hard and spill my coffee.
I’d say “Oh, crap.” It doesn’t have the aggressive beginning or the big glottal stop. But I’d use it anyway.
So imagine my surprise when, at 2 years old, my daughter dropped something on the floor and said, clear as day “Oh F***.”
“What did you say?” I asked with a big, it’s okay, you’re not in trouble so don’t lie to Mummy smile on my face.
She baby-smiled at me uncertainly. “Oh F***.”
“No, sweetie, we don’t use that word in this house,” I said. “That’s a bad word.” And I never heard her say the word again.
But the need for a good expletive starts young. And so she’d mimic me, sort of.
When she’d drop something, out she’d come with “Oh, barn it.” Obviously, she’d misheard me say “darn it.” That made me howl with laughter.
Now that she’s a bit older I’m a little less concerned about swearing. Don’t get me wrong, I won’t use the S-word or the F-word in front of my daughter. At least not on purpose.
Having said that, I was driving her to school a while ago. A woman cut me off. Badly. And on purpose. My internal mummy censor had already turned off for the day (usually it waits until after I drop her off at school). “You b***h,” I said.
I froze. My mouth dropped open in horror.
I looked in the rearview mirror.
My daughter froze. Her mouth dropped open in horror.
“I’m so, so sorry I said that,” I stammered. “Mummy was very rude to say that in front of you. I shouldn’t have said that, I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay Mummy,” she answered. “I don’t use those words.”
Thank goodness, I thought. I taught her well.
“But I hear them every day at school.”
Well, I thought. That’s it. My job is done. I can’t protect her from hearing swear words elsewhere – I can only talk about what to do in polite company.
Still, I bet she swears when I’m not listening. She doesn’t yet know I won’t hold it against her.
I’m not the only one who understands the joys of swearing. Here’s British comedian Stephen Fry: