Now dear reader, it may surprise you to learn that I like swearing. I shitting love it, I bloody do. Swearing is great! Despite what you’ve been told by your parents and old people, it IS funny, it IS mature, and above all, it IS necessary. I literally cannot imagine not swearing.
Want to get someone to go away? Tell them to piss off. Something frustrates you? Oh, for fucks’ sake! Some people are just bastards, pure and simple. That acquaintance you’ve never really liked… is he the hole in your bum where poo comes out of, or is he just an arsehole? Stub your toe? Fuck-shit-bollocks-wank-tits OW!!
Great British swearing is the finest in the world. I know some people talk of the richness of French swearing, the harsh consonants of German cussing, even the absolute poetry of Chinese profanity. But the British do it better than any other nation. From the celebrated Glaswegian ‘bawbag’ to the hoarse Cockney yell of “WANKAAAAH!”, Britain has it all. If an American yells obscenities at you, it’s quite easy to ignore. It’s just some American being vulgar, as usual. If a posh Briton, with the most Radio 4 of accents, starts swearing at you, you either doff your cap in humble reverence, or you prepare for fisticuffs. Nothing raises my blood quicker than an entitled private school posho calling me a “fucking oaf”. Do that to me, and it’s pistols-at-dawn, motherfucker.
Here in the UK, everyone swears. Even royalty.
Growing up, I found swearing to be endlessly fascinating, and used it from an early age. Sure, I got into trouble, but I felt I was enhancing my vocabulary, I noted that grown-ups did it despite telling me not to, and it was always hugely entertaining to hear adults swearing in real life. Parents, teachers, actors, musicians… all influenced me into the bad habit – not unlike the smoking I witnessed as a very young child by nearly all of the adults around me.
A story that always makes me is the anecdote of a friend of mine. His bike had a puncture when he was young, 12-years-old or so. His father, a respected gentleman who was the headmaster of the local comprehensive, decided to help with the repair. It did not go well, and as the tools were inadequate, his father started to get frustrated. Then the spanner got stuck, and in freeing it, it slipped and cut his father’s hand. At which point, Mr Sir got angry, yelled “FUCK THE CUNTING THING!!” and flung the spanner in a rage, which flew across the garage and smashed the windscreen of his car.
From the telling of that tale onwards, “Fuck the cunting thing!” became my extreme go-to phrase for any frustrating situation involving broken things.
However, both Sarah and I will be buggered if we brought up a foul-mouthed child. Ever since Alice was born, we’ve been careful with our language in her presence. It’s not actually that we don’t want her to use swear words, it’s just that we don’t want her to use them yet. I’ve been wondering about this lately, and I think it boils down to the ultimate classic fear that neither of us want to be seen as BAD PARENTS. Just the other day, coming back from a school run, I heard a mother tell her toddler son – a toddler – that he was a little fucker. I instinctively both judged and hated that mother, and I couldn’t care less how appalling her son was, he certainly didn’t merit being called that.
What’s more, I don’t want Alice to get into trouble at school for swearing. Not only would it reflect badly on her, but again it would reflect badly on Sarah and I. There was an incident at nursery, but other than that, she’s been remarkably swear-free.
And finally, I don’t want her to use language that she doesn’t fully understand until she’s capable of understanding it and using it to its fullest effect.
This has all been rather difficult for me. I’m a natural at big bloody swearing, and I don’t like having my language restricted outside of a professional environment. Sarah, on the other hand is not an enthusiastic swearer at all. She will, of course, let rip with a sailor’s tongue when the mood takes her, but she’s not proud of it.
So we’ve been cautious about using bad language in front of Alice, to the point that we tell people off who do so in her presence. Obviously, this makes us look prudish and over-sensitive, and people bemoan the fact we’ve drawn attention to the swearing instead of letting it pass unremarked, but it’s been part of the whole process that we’ve done so, so Alice hears the language, and knows it’s not acceptable to use it.
Also, we’ve been careful to apologise to Alice when we do swear. We do this because we want to convey that it’s not acceptable to use bad language in polite society, and that we want to show that we wish to show her respect, and swearing is not respectful.
Oh, things have slipped out from time to time, usually when we’re stressed or concentrating on other things. Sometimes Alice overhears stuff, or catches us when we’ve stubbed our toes.
Here’s an example:
Many years ago, when Alice was about three years old, she and I went out for a Daddy-Daughter Day somewhere. As we were pootling along in the countryside, from the back seat came a sudden, squeaky-child-voiced “Shit!”
I twitched. It must have been an accidental noise.
No, that wasn’t a random noise. She said that.
Tits, I thought. She’s swearing. Oh God, how? We’ve been so careful! How did this happen?? I must have said it without thinking earlier on in the day. Oh nooooooo!
Don’t make a fuss. Don’t draw attention to it. Maybe she’ll forget about it? Yes, she’ll calm down. But what if she doesn’t? What if she says it later on, at home? Sarah will realise I’ve said a swear thoughtlessly, and now Alice is copying me.
(Oh God, I need to say something about this, but not in an angry way) Ummmm. That’s an interesting word there, Alice?
Yeeessss, that word. Where did you hear it? (brace myself for the truth)
“Shit! Mummy says ‘oh shit’ when she’s driving…”
Oh joy!! Sarah hates driving! Of course she will be swearing her head off at every junction, roundabout, or whenever someone comes within 50 yards of her. But essentially I was thinking “HURRAH! IT’S NOT ME!!”.
Later on that evening, I climbed onto my magnanimous and lofty horse and I was all “oh Sarah, you really should watch your language in front of Alice. She’s been copying you. It’s not acceptable, etc, etc” finger-wagging; like the point-scoring, condescending, poo-expelling hole-in-the-bum that I am.
So, Alice has grown up being aware of swearing, but knowing it’s not a good idea to use it. She doesn’t use bad language, and she knows it’s not appropriate for her to do so. And Alice is now developing the maturity to deal with it.
Except we’ve gone too far.
Alice will now not tolerate any bad language from either of us, particularly me. She seems to really enjoy scolding me for any minor infraction. In fact just the other day, she got genuinely angry with me for a very minor outburst concerning something to do with rubbish things – politics or something.
“You did! You swore!”
“Just now! You said the C-word!”
I absolutely did not! (Fuck, did I?)
“Yes you did! I heard you!”
I really did not. (I can’t have said cunt in front of her, surely?)
What word did I use?
“You said… [in a shocked whisper] See-Arr-Ayy-Pee! [holds hands to mouth as if she had just said the worst thing ever]”
‘Crap’? You’re getting cross with me for saying ‘crap’?
“YOU DID IT AGAIN!”
Oh Alice, ‘crap’ isn’t the C-word. It’s not even a terribly serious word at all.
“It’s a SWEAR WORD, Daddy. It is THE C-WORD. It begins with C!”
Alice, trust me, there’s another C-word that is much, much worse. It’s so bad, I’m not even going to tell you about it (yet). Crap is fine. I can use crap in front of you. Crappity-crappity crap-crap…
Sarah [interjecting]: “Dan, stop being childish…”
“Yes Daddy, stop being childish. And swearing!!”
I give up.
It’s a little bit different if we see a film. Films have swearing in them – although, as I have noted before on this blog, family films of the 1980s were wayyy more sweary than the equivalent of today. Shits and sons-of-bitches everywhere. Even a few dicks and assholes (note the American variety. The British spelling is somehow more vulgar, don’t you think?).
But still, we are careful, particularly with cinema trips. We went to see Ready Player One recently, and I had read the book beforehand. I was aware that the book has fucks-a-go-go, peppered throughout, but I felt that Spielberg, being in blockbuster mode, would be a little more aware of his potential audience. I even checked with people to see if there was any bad language in the film.
“Not really”, said a work colleague, who turned out to be utterly incorrect.
There is an F-bomb in it. It’s loud, and it’s a funny gag, but in the cinema, Alice turned to us with a horrified “Ommmmmm!” of outrage, said in a rising tone. Shut up, kid. It was funny.
But overall, I’m pleased with the monster we have created. Alice is 9, and she’s not swearing yet. I’m glad. I don’t want to hear foul language coming out of that sweet and innocent face, blinking at me owlishly from behind those glasses. The day she tells me to fuck off, or that someone is being a wanker, or that this is a load of shit, or that her ex-boyfriend is a sack of dicks from Crap Alley, can be long into the future, as far as I’m concerned, even though watching my sodding language has been a bastard struggle, for fuck’s sake.