Not to the exclusion of all other words, and not in every situation, but holy fuck how I do love to swear. I can't help but respect any word or phrase that has the power, completely removed from context, to make people gasp, cry, or laugh (or better yet, all three at once). Such is my fascination with naughty words that I once wrote an English term paper on the origins of the big three: fuck, shit, and bitch, the building blocks that provide the structure for many a creative curse. I had such fun perusing the dusty old volumes of the library's comprehensive Oxford English Dictionary, tracking down the origins of these words (an archaic practice--I just found the same information in five seconds on Wikipedia). It turns out that people have been saying and writing swear words since the dawn of modern English, and the fact that these words have cognates in other Germanic languages suggests that they are even older than that. These venerable words are old school and they are here to stay. Try as we might to wash them from our children's mouths, sooner or later our offspring are likely to let out a "Fuck you, you fuckin' fuck!" in response to some insupportable outrage, thus carrying on an ancient linguistic tradition.
And yet...the other day Han let out an appreciative, "Daaamn!" in response to his own guitar playing prowess (if you can call rhythmically banging on a guitar "playing" it). It was a perfect imitation of me, right down to the look on his face, but I did not feel a flash of motherly pride. Instead, I cringed, wondering how long it would be until my other favorite swears crept into his lexicon, such as my habit of referring to bad drivers as "dildos," calling people on TV "assholes," or my favorite all-purpose exclamation of dismay, "Fucking shit!" As funny as it is (to me) when I say these things, hearing them come out of my son's cherubic face is alarming. After all, he doesn't know that these words are considered "bad" by the world at large. If Han drops an F-bomb in the toy aisle of Target, both of us will have to deal with the disapproving stares of strangers. If, in a few years, he tells one of his classmates to quit being such an asshole, he's the one who'll have to take a time out. Arguing that these words only have power because they're taboo will probably not win him any favor with the parents of his friends or with the school principal. As much as it pains me to admit this, until he's old enough to use these words mindfully and in the appropriate context, he probably shouldn't be using them at all.
But two-year-olds are like parrots with Tourette's Syndrome when it comes to language. They love picking up and trying out new words, especially when those words get a strong reaction from adults. And it can be very difficult not to react when a little kid says "shit." Go on and try not to physically react the next time you hear a toddler let an expletive fly. I dare you.
So, reluctantly, I must learn to curb my natural impulse toward creative swearing, at least while my son is in my presence. To that end I have devised a list of stupid, alternative "safe" swears that will hopefully have the same tension-diffusing effects as the real thing, if not the satisfaction of being truly vulgar. Feel free to use them if you like, or to add your own in the comments. They are, in no particular order:
- Oh, for the love of cake! instead of For the love of God/Christ! --Not that these words themselves are profane, but to Christians it is highly offensive to hear their lord's name taken in vain. I don't want my son to go around randomly pissing off Christians, at least not until he is old enough to be doing it deliberately.
- Mother Hubbard! to replace Motherfucker!-- Thanks to Andy Barker, P.I. for that one (I am one of the literally dozens of Andy Richter fans).
- Fiddlesticks! instead of Fucking shit!-- It's just corny enough to make me laugh.
- Bozo instead of Dildo-- To call out idiot drivers, who are, after all, clowns. I'm also bringing back, Smooth move, Ex-Lax! and I like to encourage people to Pick a lane, Poindexter!
- Son of a biscuit eater instead of Son of a bitch-- This one is harder to stick with due to the three extra syllables, but it is an old Southern favorite and it reminds me of having fun with my friends at church.
I'm sure I'll come up with more, as time goes by and I become the kind of mom I used to make fun of. And, despite me selling out completely to lameness, my son will probably grow up to enjoy swearing just as much as I do. But at least I will have taught him a very important lesson: that words have power, some more than others, and should always be used with consideration to other people in earshot. And anyone who has a problem with that can suck my toe, all the way to Mexico.