Growing up my parents followed protocol in tell my siblings and myself that certain words were bad and that we should never use them. “Never use them”. Why never? I didn’t question it though, I left it alone. That is until I was made fun of for being too afraid to tell someone to “shut up” because I was told that it was wrong to say that. As soon as I realized that all my peers were using these words and that I was the only one too afraid to, my need to fit in made me seek out what all of these taboo words were, learn them and then use them as much as possible. For many years I got in trouble numerous times for my foul or inappropriate language. It wasn’t until freshman year of high school that I met an adult who didn’t see cursing as a bad thing. Mr. Cohen my English teacher. He was a vividly imaginative man who allowed me to find my own love for English. He taught me that although seen as one of the worst words of our language, “fuck” was also the most versatile word, and the only word in our language that not only how to make an entire sentence using only it, but that it is the only word in our language that can used in every part of speech, and can mean everything from pleasure to pain, and everything in between. He opened my eyes to words and how every word is absolutely amazing and should never be disregarded as something to avoid.
When I discovered standup I of course listened to a man named George Carlin who went on a rant about why people are afraid of words and how they shouldn’t be, and from that moment on I decided that I would never allow my children to be afraid of a word. There are no bad words, there are no words that should scare you. Yes, if used in certain ways words can hurt, but they can also heal. So should we disregard the word “fuck” just because it has the potential to be used negatively, when in reality it has just as much potential to used positively? I personally don’t think so.
My daughter is now 7 and has and a few run-ins with “foul language”. Here was my approach. First off if she wants to use a word she should know what it means. So step 1 was introducing her to a dictionary and learning how to use it. I feel as though communication is hindered enough that if we could all just learn what words mean before we use them then maybe there would be a little less miscommunication in our day to day lives. So we started a word list. Any word that she read, or heard that she didn’t understand she would write down, or copy and together we would go over the list and look up each word so that she could learn what they meant and how to use them. The words that she would write weren’t just bad words, honestly there was only one bad word that she wanted to know the meaning of, the rest were all things that she heard from our family reading, or her independent reading.
Step 2 was learning when and how to appropriately use words, and honestly this is the hardest part. This involves teaching a child how to read social cues in a room which most adults have trouble doing. But because there are so many people today who fear words, and fear a child using certain words that it became difficult for me to express to her that even if she is using the words in a nice way and to do well that there are still people who will be angry with her out of pure ignorance of the word and of who she is. I mean seriously though, how do you explain that something that is in fact true, but isn’t politically correct is wrong to a child. So we settled on an agreement that while writing in her journal she can use whatever language she wants, and when speaking to me she can use whatever language she wants, but as far as anyone else she had to run it past me first for each person until she turned 18. So far that seems to be working. -- We did have one occasion where it didn’t and that was when one of her friends was exploring “bad” language during a playdate under my care and I had to handle that situation. For me it was a simple question of just opening up a dialog about the word: Understanding that words are extremely powerful and have the ability to hurt someone more deeply than a knife, but can also to help heal someone better than any medication. Before using a word know what it means, make sure we are using it for good. See if we can come up with other words that people aren’t afraid of that we can use to say the same thing.
This all led us to step 3, which was to learn alternative language. So I introduced her to a thesaurus and how to use it to find other words that would mean the exact same thing that she would be trying to say in a way that won’t offend anyone. However then we ran into other issues; like the fact that some people will even be offended if she uses the expression “darn it” to express something going wrong. - I mean she could have said “Fuck”, or “Shit”, or “Damn” “Damnit”, or she could have done that ridiculously stupid thing that parents do when we say “fudge”, or “frick” because we think somehow that saying a different word with the exact same intention somehow makes it better. That is what gets me; please tell me how saying “the B word” or “the F word” is just as bad as actually saying the word because as the speaker, saying things like “the N word” or “the IT word”, puts the words you mean to say into the listeners head anyway. So technically you’re not, not saying the word; you are! – Fact of the matter is that my daughter weighed the possibilities and picked the least “evil” word she could think of to express her dissatisfaction. However she was still asked to “please not use that word”. Well what word should she have used? Should she really be forced to dumb down her language and use infant-like language because someone else wasn’t ready to hear her use it? Or how about the time she wanted to talk about Hell and was told that she was using bad language. Is it better for her spell out “H-E-double hockey sticks”? That is literally doing the exact same thing as saying it. She is just putting the exact same word into the listeners head by saying it without saying it.
My point for all this is that if you know what a word means and how to use it and your using it appropriately and in a kind way, then why shouldn’t you use a word? Because if I slice my hand open while making dinner one night, I’m sorry but “oh fudgecicles”, or “whippersnappers” doesn’t cover the situation or my emotions quite like “FUCK!” will.