20 May Out Of The Blue
Rod Howard decides to delete all expletives and become a sworn-again dad.
While it shames me to say it, just occasionally in my brief apprenticeship as a father the stresses and strains of parenthood have resulted in the involuntary utterance of words, which in sober reflection should probably have remained unsaid. Words that have no place in the family home, or indeed for that matter in the family car, backyard, shed, restaurant or any number of other places, have escaped my lips. Perhaps it’s just early-onset Tourette syndrome, but somehow swearing (or, as the 3.8 year old now likes to call them, “yucky words”) seems to come more easily when you are a sleep-deprived parent of a toddler or two.
Of course, one should learn to exercise self-restraint. How can you expect to cultivate the use of proper language among your offspring when your tongue is blue enough to make a sailor blush? When the least irritation is voiced in language more suited to Playboy than Play School?
It was not always so. When I was growing up in the not-so-swinging suburban sixties, swearing around children was a near-punishable offence and euphemisms flowed in abundance. I distinctly remember an auntie of the time (my uncle being a much-married man) repeatedly saying ‘sugar’ and ‘fruit’ in times of child-induced stress. It seemed to me that she must have had a sweet tooth rather than a foul mouth. It was the verbal equivalent of the typed letter ‘F’ followed by a trail of dots commonly used to keep things nice in publication. But no-one’s ever shown me how to pronounce that.
My late father, a clean-spoken country boy whom I can rarely recall ever swearing, instead interpolated the word ‘jolly’. In real crisis situations, this happy substitute could appear many times in the same sentence. As in “could you jolly well get that jolly bike off my jolly foot”. His best friend preferred ‘blooming’ and ‘ruddy’. A conversation between the two sounded like the roseate banter of two cheery gardeners.
Toddlers who spend even the smallest amount of time in childcare are bound to come home at some point with their dialect enriched by other families’ euphemistic efforts. Our eldest now favours ‘what the heck’. It’s certainly better than the alternatives so we let him think it’s naughty. He thinks he’s getting away with it and everybody is happy. He also insists we may only use the yuckiest of words if we are in imminent danger of being run into by a red racing car. Why red? Perhaps it is the colour of rage. Frankly, if a racing car of any hue is about to collide with the family vehicle it is a fair bet the expletives will be undeleted in front seat and back.
Now that television programs are so ripely riddled with rudity, there is little chance of avoiding the issue. But does the proliferation of swear words make them any more attractive when they come out of a three-year-old mouth? I don’t know about you, but I would prefer they learnt a few of the 250,000 or so other words in our rich language before resorting to the three or four most commonly overused and abused adjectives.
Scatological humour is hugely popular with recently toilet-trained toddlers. But pooh-pooh the use of the words ‘poo’, ‘bum’ and ‘wee’ and you might just create a mess of your own making. Of course, children also have a way of taking your carefully laid-out rules and using them against you. More than once I have been subjected to a stern lecture regarding the evils of yuckiness, including the quoting of the offending words back to me – which is, of course, just a cunning method of getting to use the forbidden language free of parental retribution.
So, like those who went before me, the employment of euphemism appears to be the wisest course. From now on my household dialogue will be peppered with adjectives a drunken sailor wouldn’t be caught dead using: ‘blasted’ and
‘dang’. Even ‘jolly’. But if I ever see that racing car…