Monday, May 23, 2011

Ow, My Freakin' Ears!

I love bad words.

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.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What's In a Name?

My son's name isn't really Han Solo. It's just that I don't feel right identifying him on the internet since he is only two and has no say in the matter. Plus, I don't want people to make fun of his real name.

His name isn't even particularly unusual, comparatively speaking. It was ranked #242 in popularity for the year he was born. It's the name of one of our favorite actors, as well as an astronaut who hails from my hometown. It's a handsome name, one that I feel connotes strength and intelligence. And yet, every time I holler it in public I feel a stab of self-consciousness. Does it sound pretentious? Quaint and archaic? Just plain weird?

So I gave him an out--a perfectly normal, mundane middle name that he can choose to go by if he hates his first name. Because, after all, people will be calling him by that name for the rest of his life. His teachers, friends, girlfriends (or boyfriends) and employers will all know him by a name I chose for him before he was even born. It will be a fundamental part of his identity, influencing every aspect of his life.

Picking a child's name is a huge responsibility. So why the recent trend towards unique and sometimes bizarre baby names? This is particularly prevalent among celebrities--Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon named their twins Monroe and Moroccan. One of TV chef Jamie Oliver's daughters is named Petal Blossom Rainbow and the other one's name is Poppy Honey. Lisa Bonet gave her child the unwieldy (and borderline incomprehensible) moniker Wolf Manakauapo Namakaeha Momoa. The list goes on and on.

But it's not just celebrities getting in on the weird name action. In New Zealand in 2008, a judge ruled in favor of a 9-year-old girl whose mom and dad had stuck her with the horrendous name "Tallulah does the Hula." She was allowed to change her name to one that does not reflect her parents' "poor judgement". And speaking of poor judgement, there is now a child named "Facebook" in Egypt and one named "Like" in Israel.

Why are we so eager to give our children unique names? Are we worried that they won't stand out in the world, that ordinary names will condemn them to ordinary lives? Have reality TV and internet fame soured us on the idea of living outside the glare of the spotlight? I honestly don't know the answers to these questions. But one thing is for sure: every name more unusual than my son's makes me breathe a sigh of relief because, as uncommon as his name is, at least it won't be the weirdest one in the classroom, workplace, or even among his friends. Maybe he'll even grow to love it, and his "normal" middle name will stay sandwiched between his first and last, forgotten. Then and only then will I breathe a sigh of relief, and know for sure that I made the right choice.

 What are some of the weirdest baby names you've ever heard? Do you think parents are helping or hindering their children by choosing something unique?