Friday, June 24, 2011

shit, shoot, and poo poo head

haven isn't talking yet, but she's about to turn 1 so i know it's coming soon. and with talking will come repeating words she hears, which brings up the issue of "bad words". i do not have the daintiest of vocabularies, and tony's mouth is worse than mine. however, i do not speak in a way that i believe is morally wrong. if i thought saying "goddamnit!" when i stub my toe was wrong, i wouldn't say it. since i don't believe it's wrong, i'm pondering whether or not to censor myself around haven. i think i've come to the conclusion that there is a way of speaking that i find wrong and will teach her not to do, but that it has to do with intent rather than specific words.
i fail to see any moral difference between "shit" and "shoot". is the "i" sound really more evil than the "oo" sound? is "freak" really more appropriate than "fuck"? i can't see how. if the words are just being used as punctuation/exclamation, i don't believe there is anything wrong with "bad" words (i won't even get into the nerdy linguistics history and how "bad" words are really just the Saxon version and "ok" words are the Norman translation).
i do think there are things it's not ok to say. cursing as punctuation is fine, but cursing AT someone is absolutely not ok. and you can curse at someone and damage them with your words without saying a single "swear". i think it is far more wrong to call someone a "poo poo head" than to say "oh shit" when a drink spills. in the same vein, derogatory "jokes" are inappropriate regardless of the words used to convey the disrespect. words do not have a meaning outside their intent and context. so it is far more vulgar and immoral to use "non-swear" words to hurt someone than to use "swear" words to emphasize the emotional content of a sentence.
i want to teach my children that words have the power to build or to break, and must be used carefully. i want to teach them to speak respectfully and kindly. those things are important. but i frankly won't give a fuck if they say "fuck" when a toy breaks or whatever. "oh fuck" will be fine, but "fuck you" will not....i believe learning that distinction is far more important than learning to simply avoid certain words.
i will teach my kids that certain language is not appropriate in certain places/situations. i speak differently at work than i do at home, in more ways than just word choice. i speak differently when writing a formal letter than when updating facebook. sometimes i even use capitol letters. and that ability to adapt communication style to fit a situation an important life skill to know. but it's not a moral issue any more than wearing shoes (which i also do in public, mostly, but not at home).
maybe i will get shit from other moms when my kids swear around their kids. but i'm covered in tattoos and breastfeed in public and take my baby to rock shows in i'm bound to get some shit from other parents one way or another. and if i know that my children aren't hurting others with their words, then i will feel successful and content in my parenting.
plus, it's super hilarious when a toddler says "shit" in public....


  1. hmmmm.....I don't agree Betsy. Don't you think it's unfair to allow your child to curse in the presence of other children? I for one do not share your view that "words and words" and see a whole lot of difference between the f word and "darn it." I don't think it's cute or funny at all to hear young children swearing. I would bring it back to not allowing unwholesome talk to come out of your mouth...and yes that goes well beyond curse words and more into teaching your child to speak kindly and respectfully, as well as demonstrating it yourself. Which half this blog sounds like what you are aiming for, yet the other half is in great contradiction to itself.

  2. i was hoping some other parents would share their opinions. i appreciate you disagreeing with me and making me think more about my opinions. my comments about upsetting parents were mostly because where i live right now the other moms don't talk to me because i have tattoos and weird hair and i don't wear polo shirts, so one more reason for them to dislike me wouldn't matter to me. but that's not to say that i totally don't care about how other people choose to raise their kids. i do respect that others have different views. i definitely won't encourage my kids to swear. my intent is not that they run around the playground cussing like sailors and teaching words to other kids. getting other kids in trouble would fall under the category of words doing damage, which is why i'll have to work hard to teach about using words and actions that are appropriate for the situation. i don't swear at the grocery store, and they will be taught not to swear on the playground. i'm fine with my kids swearing, but not at times and places where it will offend and hurt people. but at the same time, i think it would be hypocritical of me to expect them to speak differently than what i expect of myself when at home. i don't see the way that i speak as immoral, so i don't see the point in pretending i feel that way in front of my kid. i really don't understand what is different, morally, between "shit" and "shoot". if i thought it was wrong to say one of them, i wouldn't say the other one either. if i thought it was wrong to say "damn" then i would have to also think it was wrong to say "darn" because it is said with the same intent and in the same context. i guess it boils down to one's definition of "unwholesome". my personal belief is that unwholesomeness is based on intent. i won't encourage swearing, but i'm not going to be upset when it happens.

  3. Your children would be right at home in Ireland, where there is not a cultural difference between "grown up" words and "kiddy" words. One of the things I liked best about being there was the natural and honest flow of both "positive" and "negative" emotional content. The recognition that certain words express anger; certain words express delight, without moralizing about the specific words.
    I so agree that it's better to "cuss" when the toe is stubbed and refrain from name calling, than to spend a whole childhood working out the "acceptable" ways to assassinate the characters of playmates... which is what so often happens.

    Haven can cuss around her Nana, as long as she doesn't cuss "at" Nana!