I swear a lot. I mean, a LOT. And I’m starting to wonder if I should stop.
I’m not entirely sure why my mouth is so filthy. I wasn’t raised in a house full of swearers, but I suspect it might have something to do with feeling insecure and socially isolated in my late teen years. I tried to develop a bit of a badass persona, and swearing probably made me feel tougher. It’s not clear whether I was successful. Reviews are mixed but an acquaintance did once say to me “You’re from [the upper middle class Toronto neighborhood] Lawrence Park??? I thought you were from wrong side of the tracks!” So, I fooled some of the people some of the time, anyway.
Regardless, now I’m in my forties and I swear like Quentin Tarantino and David Mamet write my life. I try not to curse at the office but my efforts are pretty much in vain. My friends are always giving my stinkeye when I swear around their kids. So, I apologize profusely, then do it again five minutes later. Because it’s really hard to stop.
But now that I have a kid of my own who is starting to talk a lot, I’m considering giving it a try.
Before our daughter was even born, my husband and I talked about this, and I was like, f%#k that. We can swear, I figured, and tell the kid that mommy and daddy can say bad words because we’re grown ups, but you can’t because you’re a child. Now, however, I’m starting to figure out a bit about how kids work and I’m not sure this is going to be a very effective plan. Not at first anyway.
Now she just says random words and is only beginning to connect them to their meanings. Those words include, on top of a selection of animal sounds, “shoe,” “apple,” “remote” (oh, go ahead and judge me. I’m OK with that), “nice,” and “hurray.” I know she only has a thin grasp if what they represent and it would be impossible for me to stop her from repeating them, and inadvisable to try. I also know that “f%#k” can’t be that far behind, and that I won’t be able to stop her from repeating that one either.
(“F%#k” is my most common swear word. I say other words too. But that’s the most commonly used.)
Every few days I go into panic mode, and tell my husband, after we’ve spent 20 minutes creating our own Scorsese scene while she sits there grinning at us, “Oh my God! We have got to stop swearing in front of the KB!” (It stands for Kidney Bean. Her nickname.)
Honestly, though, I don’t think my swearing is going to hurt her. They’re just words. They only offend people who choose to be offended, and who has time to worry about that?
Can swearing cause psychological damage?
According to these psychological scientists who focus on swearing, there hasn’t been a ton of research on swearing from a psychological angle. They say, for what it’s worth:
“Our work so far suggests that most uses of swear words are not problematic. We know this because we have recorded over 10,000 episodes of public swearing by children and adults, and rarely have we witnessed negative consequences. We have never seen public swearing lead to physical violence. Most public uses of taboo words are not in anger; they are innocuous or produce positive consequences (e.g., humor elicitation). No descriptive data are available about swearing in private settings, however, so more work needs to be done in that area.
“Therefore, instead of thinking of swearing as uniformly harmful or morally wrong, more meaningful information about swearing can be obtained by asking what communication goals swearing achieves.”
And that is probably the best question. How does my swearing affect my communications? Does it help or hinder and, if my child swears, how will it affect her ability to communicate?
I suspect that, while it can make statements more colorful and emphatic, I use it as a crutch and an excuse to be lazy. The “F” word is very versatile, after all. Use it on its own or add your choice of suffix and it becomes a noun, a verb, an adjective or an adverb. But, often, another word would probably be equally, if not more fitting. Well, possibly. It’s a theory worth testing out.
So, on one hand, I can’t help but think it’s silly to get worked up over words and the random people who might take umbrage. On the other, it wouldn’t kill me to put in a little more linguistic effort. Maybe it’s time for a swear jar.
I don’t know. I’ll decide later. Decisions are hard.
Just trying that on for size. It doesn’t really work for me.
How about you? Did you make an effort to clean up your language after having kids? And how did that work out for you? Tell us about it in the comments.
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