Wash Your Mouth Out

October 16, 2012

By Gabrielle.

Yesterday, I mentioned a little story involving the f-word and my daughter Olive. When we first moved to France and the kids started school, they didn’t speak a word of French. Olive told me that on one of her first days of school, there was a classmate trying to show off his English. So he approached her and in a thick French accent, with a happy, welcoming grin on his face, said, “You speak English? F— you!”

I know it’s hard to imagine, but his intention was completely friendly! And he stood there happy to make her acquaintance. 9-year-old Olive was shocked, but thankfully, mature enough to know he didn’t intend any offense and was able to laugh about it.

Growing up, swearing was a BIG no-no at my house. Saying bad words, or talking back, meant getting my mouth washed out with a bar of soap! (And it wasn’t at all as charming as the photo at top.) I did some swearing in middle school when I was feeling feisty, but mostly, I haven’t been a swearer.

Moving to New York changed my whole view of swearing. I would hear the f-word many, many times a day on the street, on the train, and in the office. In New York, it’s kind of like saying shoot, or crap. Unless you’re saying it in an angry voice, or accompanying it with hand gestures, it doesn’t always carry a lot of weight like it might in my hometown, or in Colorado, or other places I’ve lived. And I can tell you, that even though I wasn’t swearing myself, my ears eventually adjusted and it truly didn’t bother me when I would hear the commonly used bad words.

Moving to France has made swear words even less toxic. I think because I was reminded that it’s such a cultural thing. In fact, I can hear a string of British swears or French swears and they don’t make me even slightly uncomfortable. Because they are absolutely meaningless to my ears!

Tell me, friends. What are the swearing rules at your house? Did you swear before you had kids? Do you swear around them still? Did your parents ever wash your mouth out with soap?

P.S. — Oddly, after not swearing for most of my adult life, I found myself letting curse words slip now and again over the last couple of years. Except the f-word. It still makes me blush!

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{ 64 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Lindsay October 16, 2012 at 11:43 am

I think my parents realized they couldn’t prevent three teenage girls from swearing forever, so they turned it into an educational experience. We were allowed to say a swear word only if we spelled it out. I fondly remember yelling down the stairs…”Mooom, Angela is being a Bee-eye-tee-sea-h”

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2 Design Mom October 16, 2012 at 12:03 pm

What a great rule, Lindsay! I may have to copy you if swearing ever becomes a big thing with my kids.

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3 Colleen October 16, 2012 at 1:09 pm

Love it!

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4 Annabel October 16, 2012 at 11:44 am

Ha! This reminded me of when I was living in France and learning by picking up stuff from my french friends. I kept saying all these swear words in the wrong situation because I hadn’t learnt that they were taboo! They’re just words, you know ?

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5 Design Mom October 16, 2012 at 12:03 pm

Yes. Exactly! They’re just words. Just sounds even. And we give them meaning.

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6 Christine October 16, 2012 at 11:44 am

Regrettably I’m a swearer. I really want to stop but sometimes words just slip out. I have a toddler so I need to get it under control ASAP. As it isn’t cute/funny when they swear. So if it isn’t funny when they do, why is it ok for us? Is it justified as we know what we’re saying…

Growing up swearing was an absolute no-no. Even now my parents will say something if I’ve sworn in their presence. I had my mouth washed out with soap once, with my older brother. To this day I protest my innocence on that occasion ;)

There is rarely any need for it, there are many ways to adequately express ourselves. I agree, depending on where you live the impact of swear words is completely different. Similarly when Americans make the peace sign with the palm facing their own body, to Americans this is just the peace sign. To many others it isn’t!

Interesting topic.

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7 Design Mom October 16, 2012 at 12:06 pm

I don’t think I knew the peace sign could mean something offensive. Good to know!

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8 Giulia October 16, 2012 at 12:37 pm

Oh yes, the palm facing body peace sign in Italy could get you into big trouble as it signifies that your wife is unfaithful…

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9 Summer October 16, 2012 at 2:46 pm

And the backwards peace sign is “the bird” in England/UK!

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10 Sally October 19, 2012 at 5:50 pm

It’s the same in Australia – usually accompanied by “Up yours” ;)
Not quite as bad as one finger though!

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11 Pamela October 16, 2012 at 12:02 pm

growing up we we were not even allowed to say shut up! and now, a parent myself, i don’t allow my children to say it either. i tell them i have no control how they talk when they are away from me..but at home and when they are with us i expect them to not use bad language…even shut up! i’m disappointed in many of the disney movies today that say “shut up” and “idiot”…as a parent, it makes my job harder to teach my children that they shouldn’t talk like that but it’s ok for Woody from Toy Story to say it!

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12 Design Mom October 16, 2012 at 12:05 pm

“Shut up” is a mean one, isn’t it? I can’t say it never happens at our house, but it always bums me out when it does.

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13 Stephanie October 16, 2012 at 2:07 pm

Same at my house! Shut up was a bad word growing up, and I still don’t use it. Funny though, my non-swearing mother now surprises me with curse words on a regular basis. I have to remind her that there are still little ears around! My husband and I only tend to swear when we get hurt, or are really angry (mostly whispering under our breath). My daughter is 3, so we haven’t gotten to swear words, YET. I’m not sure what I’ll do when it happens, but soap is not an option!

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14 Karmen October 16, 2012 at 12:08 pm

I had my mouth washed out twice — both times using liquid dish soap. I would have preferred a bar as the more you try to rinse and/or spit w/ liquid soap, the foamier/bubblier it becomes – ay yi yi….once for calling my sister a pig & the other time for saying fart. my son is enamored of the English word “bloody” and uses it frequently as in “bloody hell” which comes from the Harry Potter series. he’s in 3rd grade and unfortunately, swear words are the big topic…who says them, who knows them — which seems young to me. I didn’t know the F word until I was in high school. I try to make the words a non-issue so as not to encourage the taboo-ness of them — but it’t not allowed in our house.

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15 RebeccaNYC October 16, 2012 at 9:21 pm

Since my dad is a minister, there was NO swearing in our home. No “shut up” either. As an adult, I now love a well placed swear word, but as a New Yorker, I am saddened by the “F” and “N” bombs being so casually dropped all around me, especially in the subway perhaps with a children all around. Kills me.

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16 Kelsey October 16, 2012 at 12:12 pm

I swear! A lot! I’m 23, and I swear pretty casually. It’s very “ahh, look at this f-in’ thing” or “sh-tsh-tsht”* in quick succession. I don’t say the word ‘b-tch’ though, I think it’s a gendered slur and I don’t use words that are derogatory in /that way/. I tend to curse the universe whenever I f’ sh*t up. I’m trying to censor myself for you. Right now. This is me trying. :(

I wasn’t allowed to swear when I was little, but my parents swore around me. It was just understood that grown ups are allowed to use certain pieces of language that kids aren’t. I remember being pressured into swearing when I was in middle school. I turned BEET RED. Clearly I don’t have that problem, now.

I’ve four younger siblings; I swear in front of them, although mostly they’re grown now. I swear in conversation with my mom, I swear when I’m alone, I swear when my cat breaks something, I swear often and I enunciate every syllable. It’s just never borne any weight for me. If someone swears within earshot, I don’t even notice. Honestly. My mom will occasionally tell me not to swear (not very seriously) and I’ll have to remember what I’ve said.

Obviously I don’t swear in front of customers or over dinner in public– but that’s just basic manners. I remember when I “started” (probably 16 or 17), my number one concern was sounding natural– not hesitating. If I was going to do this I was going to treat these words like any other and not stumble over them. To me, it’s like wearing something casual to a formal dinner or any other no-no like that… there are times where it is appropriate to swear and times where your language should be more reigned in. I happen to take advantage of all the times where swearing is a-okay. It makes my heart happy.

(* I had no idea how to censor that. And for reference, I’ve grown up in suburban Massachusetts.)

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17 caroline October 16, 2012 at 12:22 pm

When I first moved to New York City about 20 years ago, the swearing floored me. The s-word is used like a comma and the f-word like a period throughout most conversations on the subways. I got used to it, but now that my toddler son is commuting with me, I find myself wincing at the language once again. Sure, the swearing is almost meaningless in its overuse, but it pours out of the mouths of everyone about 12 and older and just sounds horrible. I feel like pre-teen conversation is getting robbed of truly descriptive adjectives and adverbs in favor of f-ing this and that. So far my son hasn’t picked up anything worse than “stupid,” but I know swearing will sink in soon and I’ll be in a pitched battle to prevent him from relying on four-letter words to flavor his conversation.

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18 Meaghan October 16, 2012 at 12:29 pm

I remember being about 8 years old, attending a Christian school, and one day we were sitting in the Sanctuary waiting for the chorale director who was working with another group. We were allowed to talk quietly while waiting. At the time my younger brother was 2 and he referred to his pacifier as his “suck”. I was sitting with my friend who was the youngest in her family with 5 older brothers! I started rhyming words with “suck” and eventually got to the f-word. I had NO IDEA that it meant anything, but my friend with lots of unruly brothers did! She tattled on me, but the teacher could tell that I honestly had no clue what the word meant. She just told me not to repeat it again and let it drop. I was VERY embarrassed.

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19 Giulia October 16, 2012 at 12:40 pm

We were taught that cursing is a habit that makes you look either unintelligent or scared and it was not tolerated. I never really swore and neither has my husband and we don’t allow our kids to say shut up or stupid. They might not be swear words but they are mean spirited words.

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20 Suzanne October 16, 2012 at 12:44 pm

I know there are some moments where nothing quite expresses your sentiment better than a well-selected curse word, but I definitely think swearing has become way too casual and acceptable in our culture. When it’s used too commonly, it’s crass and vulgar, not to mention completely unneccesary. Especially the F-word (I think the prevelence of the B-word is pretty unfortunate as well). Now that my baby is starting to understand language, I’m super annoyed by people around us in public who aren’t curteous enough to sensor themselves in front of a child. It’s just classless.

For the record, I don’t swear myself. I’m fond of several slang words that I try to keep to a minimum, but swearing just isn’t classy or polite.

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21 Becki October 16, 2012 at 12:45 pm

I never swear. I don’t mind or even notice when others do. My husband laughs when I stub my toe or hit my elbow and say “ouch!” as he would say other things. My kids are similar in age to yours, and my oldest went through a phase when she was 11 or 12 when she would try out different words when the situation arose. It was always so funny, and she realized it’s not very attractive (for now, at least!) and stopped cursing.

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22 Jillian in Italy October 16, 2012 at 12:58 pm

When my son was 6 years old he arrived home one day announcing that a big kid on the school bus taught him the “f-word”. His twin sisters were curious and he was bursting at the seams to say it to us. So I made a last second decision to let him say it and said that for the following minute they could all say it as many times and as loud as they wanted and then that was it for that word. It was to never to be said again.

So there we were, all five of us, repeatedly saying the dreaded f-word for one minute straight. Thank goodness we live in Italy and that my neighbours don’t understand English.

In any case, they got it out of their systems and there hasn’t been mention of it in the two years since.

I personally never swear in front of the kids but I do let the odd swear word slip when I’m alone and hammer my thumb or something. It just seems to help the pain sometimes!

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23 Lola G. October 16, 2012 at 12:59 pm

I definitely had my mouth washed out with soap when I was a kid, sometimes unfairly. By that, I mean that many relatives were not English-speaking. As a child, even if you don’t understand the exact words being said, you know that so-and-so says ********* when they appear upset or angry. So there were a few times when I just repeated those words when I felt those feelings, thinking that I was bypassing the “bad” English equivalents. Oh well – no mercy for the ignorant in our household, I still got the punishment.

I try to be careful of my language, but I definitely let words fly that I’d prefer not to, especially since my husband never, ever swears. One word that I haven’t become immune to in real life or on TV (where I think I hear it on every show except the news) is c**p. I don’t like it, and the sooner it leaves the daily lexicon, the happier I’ll be!

Someone once told me that people who swear regularly don’t have a creative vocabulary for when they’re upset. That really stayed with me, and I realized how easy (lazy) it is to let out a few choice words, but it requires taking a breath and really thinking about what it is you’re feeling to express it in a constructive and meaningful way. Of course, all bets are off when the car door has just smooshed your fingers and you’re writhing in pain!

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24 Jacquelyn Moses October 16, 2012 at 1:01 pm

In our house we call swear words “angry words” and if the kids ever learn any of them we have set the ground work that angry hurtful words are not tolerated in our home weather it is calling someone a “googoo head” or something worse. I think my 10 year old may have a vague notion of a few “bad words” but they still think the S-word is “stupid”.

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25 Jennifer F. - American Mom in Bordeaux October 16, 2012 at 1:14 pm

It’s so true that swear words are just words that we have given meaning to…As my girls have gotten older – they ask about certain words and as I explain that they are inappropriate – they all have said at various times…but they are just words. Moving to France, it’s interesting that French kids often want to hear what are the “Gros Mots” in English – but my kids are often too embarrassed to teach them. I’m also reminded of my favorite English teacher, 8th grade who taught a lesson that swear words were often in appropriate but could certainly serve as a release of stress or frustration. His suggestion was to find another word similar…like instead of the f-word, one could say “truck” instead. They are just words…Great post – thanks Gabrielle!

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26 Rosa October 16, 2012 at 1:16 pm

I am on the fence. I use swear words with my co worker to express immense feelings, but not everyone does, so I feel profoundly censored. I wish it weren’t deemed inappropriate nd just words to convey strong meaning. Lets be real, a three year old swearing can be quite funny, especially when they don’t know what it means.

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27 Susan October 16, 2012 at 1:19 pm

For sure, you can swear without opening your mouth! On a study abroad many years ago, the charming English second graders I was working with asked me how many more days I would be with them. As luck would(n’t) have it, I said “two” while holding up two fingers, palm facing myself. Giving that table of kids the equivalent of our one finger salute caused much laughter on their part, confusion on my part.

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28 julia [life on churchill] October 16, 2012 at 1:22 pm

Though I’m not as conservative with my words as what I grow up with (we weren’t allowed to say sucks, crap, ect). My husband and I don’t use curse words. At home we often look at heart attitudes behind words with our kids–like are you being kind, generous, or selfish..

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29 Martha October 16, 2012 at 1:27 pm

I grew up in a house where swearing was absolutely not tolerated. My husband grew up in a house where they used “the three basic swears” (S,D,H) on a regular basis. My husband has worn off on me and I hate it! I was driving the whopping 1/4 mile with my kids one day to a movie party at my sisters house. From the back seat I heard my darling 2 year old little gal say, ” D*mn it cars! Move! We’re going to a movie party!” I still feel awful, at the time I just couldn’t stop laughing. We have given the kids permission to send us to time out when we swear.

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30 Em October 16, 2012 at 2:01 pm

My parents were never super strict about swearing, but I have NEVER been swearer. Like, I’ve probably said less than five swear words out loud in my entire life! (And those, muttered under my breath when I was alone and had just injured myself, most likely :) I’m not really sure why, but it’s just part of who I am! I’m not that sensitive to hearing other people swear, though.

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31 Sarah H October 16, 2012 at 2:05 pm

I’ve made up swear words for myself to use. I don’t like for my kids to say dang it, or stupid, or shut up, or any of the benign “swear” words. I used to say “crap” when something happened or when I was hurt, but now I find myself saying silly things like, “frankincense”, “fraggleschnack”, “blobby boo”, or other such nonsense. Things I like about saying these things are: 1. I can actually change my behavior! Things aren’t as ingrained as I might think. 2. Saying a nonsense word diffuses the situation, at least for me- you can’t take anger too seriously when you’re talking like a children’s book character.

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32 cleo October 16, 2012 at 2:12 pm

I think in Europe many people don’t understand the full context of American swear words and use them too often. They don’t realize how offensive they can really be and think its part of everyday American speaking.

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33 Sharon @ Discovering blog October 16, 2012 at 2:19 pm

I think I have a dirty mouth, but then again, I’m from NJ. (heh)
My husband and I curse at home, but never to or at each other. Our kids know that there are Grown Up Words that they are not allowed to say – along with swears those include Shut Up and Stupid and so on. It’s not really an issue.
I do realize how different other parts of the country are. When I visit my bestie in Virginia, and I let out a curse, I feel so awkward! But around my friends here, it’s truly not a big deal. Like others have said, it’s like using a comma in a story. It really just adds color.
Very interesting discussion!

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34 Janey October 16, 2012 at 3:18 pm

My nieces went through a stage where they used some bad words, so my brother started putting just a tiny amount of mustard on their tongues (nothing to hurt them, of course!). The trouble with that is that they then started using ‘Mustard!’ as a curse word! I suppose at least nobody else knew what they were doing! Thankfully they have grown out of both the swearing and the mustarding!

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35 corrin October 16, 2012 at 3:25 pm

To this day, my sister and I can’t say “shut up” or “I hate…” in my parents house. Once I started college, everything else was fair game. My mom once asked my dad if it bothered him that his daughters swore and he said “no, because I know they’re nice people.”

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36 M. Peterson October 16, 2012 at 3:28 pm

I swear. I swear like a sailor. In front of my kids. At my kids. They move faster that way.

My parents both swore as I grew up. We weren’t allowed to swear and got in trouble for it until we were around 14 or 15. Then we were allowed to slip b*tch or @ss in there. Sh*t was probably allowed next. I was definitely 18 before saying the f-word in front of my mom, but said it around 16 around my dad. But never *AT* them. To this day, the one word I’m not allowed to say in front of my mom is the C word. As for my kids, only one is old enough to talk and she just recently started repeating these words, but has been very good about not saying it a second time after being told “that’s a Momma-and-Daddy word. You can’t say that until you are a grown-up.” To her, it’s like coffee and driving – she knows she’s too young for the power of it just yet.

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37 Victoria Regina October 16, 2012 at 3:31 pm

Growing up, there was no swearing in my house, and even if something slipped out accidentally, you knew you were in trouble with Mom. I do, though, have memories of hearing my mother swear (usually something related to traffic/general crisis) and being REALLY scared because Mom just didn’t get angry. Now that I’m grown, my natural tendency is to swear pretty frequently, but it also isn’t a problem to turn it off when I’m in situations where it would be inappropriate (church, mom’s house, meetings with a professor), so I figure it’s not a huge deal.

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38 Kathy Ayers October 16, 2012 at 3:39 pm

I hear you Gabrielle….We moved to New York Citynarea for hubby to.get his phd at NYU. The first day I went to the grocery store I was “f’d” out by the clerk. I went home sobbing.. people were so harsh and crude…. It never got easy…but like you I can hear brits etc. swear, and it doesn’t shock because I am not even sure it is swearing! I like to teach though by example, so I think there are a lot of better word choices….

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39 April Louise October 16, 2012 at 3:45 pm

This is such a cute photograph.

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40 julia g blair October 16, 2012 at 3:59 pm

I remember hearing my mother swear once (damn!) and I was totally shocked.
It’s given me comfort to realize that someone as perfect as she could swear! She really was human!
I do not swear out-loud. I try not to mutter under my breathe and I’m getting good
at curbing any thoughtless outburst.

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41 Amber, theAmberShow October 16, 2012 at 4:07 pm

In my house, the no-no word was “fart”. I have NO IDEA why my parents took particular offense to this four-letter word, but it was treated with the same gravity as, well, the REAL “f word”.

I try not to swear gratuitously, especially around little kids that might pick it up or older adults (I’m 30), but I stopped making a point to shield my more conservative peers from my occasional usage of swear words, on the grounds that it felt like I was treating them like children.

This is a great conversation; I’m loving everyone’s answers.

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42 Janan W October 16, 2012 at 4:12 pm

No swearing growing up. Ever. In my house crap, belly, fart, shut-up, and stupid were the banned words. Yes, we all had tummy-buttons. (My mom just thought it sounded vulgar) Now, grown with 4 kiddos, shut-up and stupid (and any name calling) are no-nos for sure. I didn’t ban fart, but I still don’t even like typing it! lol. We all have belly-buttons here. Crap is my swear word, I guess. That was rebellious enough for me. Swearing is a non-issue in our home. The one or 2 times someone repeated something they heard, when very young, all it took was for us to say thats a swear word and we don’t say it. We’ve lived at Military bases around the world and swearing seems to be prevalent everywhere. Our oldest 2 are in 10th and 8th grade and are surrounded by swearing at school. We teach them that just because something is all around you it does not mean you need to accept it or adopt it. The 10th grader tells me the boys/girls sound cheap and ugly when they swear. Our example really is the loudest one, whether we realize it or not.

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43 Susan October 16, 2012 at 4:30 pm

My parents rarely swore ( and never at or about us), so we grew up with an understanding that it was unacceptable language. I heard my father swear only very occasionally, and my mother, never. The only time I was was every struck by either parents was when I called my mom a b***h (I was 13) and she slapped my face. It made quite an impression on me. I did not swear around my children when they were little, and they also knew it was unacceptable in our family. The kids are all grown now, and I find I can occasionally let a “bad” word slip around them. I taught school for many years, so I automatically have a “kids” vocabulary and an “adult” vocabulary. I still think it shows a lack of the good use of language when an adult can’t find a substitute phrase. I cringe when I hear the language some parents use around or directed towards their children!

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44 Rachel October 16, 2012 at 5:45 pm

Washing mouths out with soap is just WRONG. Plain wrong.

I swear. In front of my kids. I don’t mean to…usually one might pop out when I’m mad. I have two kids, 1 is more likely to drop a swear, but he likes to do it for shock value.

We don’t encourage it and there’s usually a consequence, because, at this point, a child his age just doesn’t know when to say something things and when to keep quiet.

When they’re teens? We probably won’t care that much.

Besides, both of my kids are Harry Potter lovers and can say a string of British curse words like they are going out of style. I hear “bloody hell” and “stupid git” sometimes in our house ;)

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45 jenny also October 16, 2012 at 5:46 pm

I love to cuss! Sometimes the whole nice mommy persona thing gets old, no?

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46 Jill October 16, 2012 at 6:24 pm

It bothers me when people swear in public places–I consider it like secondhand smoke. It seems arrogant to assume that foul language won’t offend others, or to not care if it does. It’s disappointing that cursing has become so commonplace. I can certainly understand the urge to swear in anger or pain, but there are better choices in most circumstances.
I’m also a bit perplexed when people claim they ” don’t notice it”, or think it matters, but say they intentionally alter their language at times. Clearly, they are aware of it on some level if they avoid foul language around some people or in some places.
Swearing may be “just words”, but words can have a lot of power, for good or otherwise.

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47 Pamela Balabuszko-Reay October 16, 2012 at 6:48 pm

I will never forget hearing my mom drop the F-Bomb for the first time. Our family room was next to the furnace room. The cat’s litter box was kept in there. For some strange reason my mom decided to clean out the cat box and put the dirty litter in a paper grocery bag. She stepped into the family room and….. the moisture in the bag ate through the bottom. The whole thing emptied out onto my mom’s feet and the carpet in the family room. “Oh, F-CK” my mother yelled. My brother and I looked at each other with wide eyes and about died laughing. I was 16. A well-placed F-Bomb can have an impact. Every day….not so much. I like to have a swear every now and then but mostly not.

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48 Ellen W October 16, 2012 at 8:15 pm

A word doesn’t even have to be a “swear” word to be annoying to hear. Lately my 6 yr old has started saying “whatever” in a snotty tone and gotten himself in trouble. My husband and I don’t curse very often and do a fairly good job of not doing it in front of our boys. I do get annoyed when we’re out in public and hear a bunch of dirty language. I’ve asked several times for people to watch their language around our kids and generally they comply.

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49 Tanya H October 16, 2012 at 9:12 pm

My parents didn’t swear. I don’t swear. Never have….ever. I can’t even think of how to use curse words properly! My husband & I don’t allow any of it in our home–music, television, movies. As you can guess, there’s not a lot that gets past the door. But honestly, I don’t feel as though we’re missing out on anything that can’t be replaced with something equally or even more uplifting.

We set the rules in place before my daughter even came along. We don’t allow stupid, crap, suck, or any words of that genre. We also believe that replacing offensive words with others (heck vs hell; biotch vs ***) carry just as much negativity since it is often our tone behind the words that make them hurt that much more. If there is something to say and our current vocabulary isn’t sufficient–then it’s probably best left unsaid.

My daughter has been exposed to a whole host of ‘colorful language’ so it’s not as if she’s living in a bubble. And although, even as a teen, it still takes her by surprise, I’m grateful that our frank conversations have been enough for her to remain nonjudgmental towards others. For our little family this approach has been working just fine for us—and I hope it stays that way for as long as possible.

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50 Michelle October 16, 2012 at 9:52 pm

My parents were very strict about swearing. “Dang” was not allowed because it was merely shorthand for “Damn.” One day my brother came running into the house in a panic because his older brother, “said the bad four-letter-f-word!” “What?!” and then my mother calmed down and said, “What word?” And he said in a quiet, I-hope-i don’t-get-in-trouble-for-saying-this voice, “fart.” It still makes me laugh.

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51 kelleyn October 16, 2012 at 10:06 pm

Funny thing is I never swore until my 13 year old became about 11! He really pushes my buttons in a way that brings out one really baby word. Not the f word not the s word, but dam-it. I always feel horrible that I say it, and son will even point out that I am swearing which makes me even more angry. My husband doesn’t swear even though he grew up in Germany where it is just totally socially acceptable.

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52 Lauren October 16, 2012 at 11:57 pm

I hardly ever swear, but my husband swears even less. I remember once when we were engaged, he was purposefully trying to push my buttons by taking forever to get ready to go out. He knew I was getting worked up, but I guess he hadn’t guessed just how much. Teasingly, he asked me politely if I would help him put his shoes on…I told him to put his own damn shoes on and walked out the door. He laughs about it now, although he was a little shocked at the time.

I think that’s just how we were raised; my family will swear every once in awhile (usually jokingly), but my husband’s family NEVER does. Except his sister. She swears a lot with her friends, but usually tries to monitor her language around the family. But once at Thanksgiving dinner a couple a years ago, she dropped the f-bomb on accident–she was so embarrassed and I thought my father in law was about to pop a gasket. I was just trying my hardest not to laugh!

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53 Johanna October 17, 2012 at 10:05 am

I studied linguistics and this is a subject I’ve found interesting for a long time. Here’s how I think about it. We keep certain words separate (profane or obscene ones, for instance) so that they can keep their power. To be able to express the full range of human thought and feeling, we have to have something to say that expresses the extremes–and when we use a word frequently, it loses the power to express an extreme, it just becomes more common. I think of it as language inflation. An example on the other end of the spectrum is “awesome.” I was deliberate for a long time about not using it casually (“Wow, you got into the class you wanted, that’s awesome”) for a long time, but eventually caved in b/c it’s just such a normal way of expressing basic enthusiasm where I live. Now I’m not sure what to say when I’m trying to express something that was beautiful and powerful.

(FYI, I was a complete non-swearer, not even hell or damn, until I got married, at which time I moved directly (rarely) to f— . Guess it took marriage to be provoked enough. (It’s also been Awesome, just so you know!)

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54 Kristen E October 17, 2012 at 10:22 am

Oh yes, my parents had very strict rules about our language. Fart, shut up, oh my God, gosh darn it, etc. weren’t allowed. As an adult, I’m much more relaxed and can be a swearer in the right company, but around my nephews (who I watch for several hours a day) I’m right back to being strict! In their house, fart and crap and this sucks are ok, but shut up is not. Nor is any name-calling or taking the Lord’s name in vain. I have heard the 10-year old flex his bad language muscles a few times in the last couple of weeks, though he denies it, and I reminded him that we don’t use bad words in his house, even if he uses them at school. We’ll see how that turns out. ;)

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55 Sarah October 17, 2012 at 7:55 pm

Ha! I’m a New Yorker and I am guilty! The thought of you blushing here makes me giggle. I swear up and down left and right. In my industry, it’s pretty common place to use any and all swears, so I even find myself cursing at work. My clients and bosses swear and I recently got an email with just the “F word” in the subject line. I sometimes feel nervous when I catch myself swearing on the train and then notice a younger child but there is so much craziness going on in New York, I don’t think my foul mouth will make things any worse.

Anyway, I think for everyone (but for NYers most, we have very short fuses!), swearing is just a way to let out some anger. It really helps me to yell at something I bumped into instead of one of my clients! I don’t think I swear AT anyone, mainly just at trains that are moving too slow and taxi drivers that almost hit me but can’t hear me. It has helped me from going nuts in this busy city.

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56 Sarah October 17, 2012 at 7:57 pm

Also! This made me think of this Eddie Izzard bit about “American Movies” which sounds to me like Brooklyn. Sorry, we love swearing! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjC3R6jOtUo

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57 Cherie October 18, 2012 at 5:56 am

Yes, we swear and while we don’t drop it in general conversation we do sometimes swear around the kids. We have, however, taught them that these are “daddy words”. They know what they are but they dont get to use them. In the same way that they can’t go and pour themselves a wine or drive the car there are some things that adults do that children are not allowed to do. This is mostly because, even though we don’t object to swearing, we as adults appreciate that context is very important. Until they are old enough to understand those nuances ( ie, it’s ok to swear at the coffee table that just collected your toe, not ok to swear at your teacher) then swearing is off limits. Recently Lily Allen’s “The Fear” song was playing on our ipod and after hearing the f bomb my 5 yr ld daughter stopped and said “Did she just say…(hesitating, whispering)…f**k? She has VERY bad manners”. So, nice to know that they get it and are getting a handle on the context thing early!

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58 mommio October 18, 2012 at 6:28 am

I agree the excessive use of what used to be considered quite inappropriate language has rendered most of those words impotent. Taking the Lord’s name in vain will never be okay in my book though. On the flip side though, my fourth grade teacher once said those who swear do so because they can’t find better words to express their strong feelings. And over the years I have come to believe she is absolutely right. ‘Bad words’ are the cheapest coins of the realm in conversation and make every conversation or emotion seem equal. Finding words to express yourself is one of the most liberating abilities one can have. Words free us to be unique individuals and have so much color, so many shades of meaning that to continually use one or two words over and over reduces one’s life to a pretty flat plane of emotion.

On the flip side I also truly believe “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” Any word can be used to cut, belittle, degrade, make small. Aren’t those really the words we should be worried about?

Now a funny story about bad words. A kindergarten teacher was shocked at how ofter her students used the word “sucks” to describe something they didn’t like. She declared it a bad word and forbade the students to use it in the classroom. A few days later, a girl came to the teacher to inform her that little Johnny had said a bad word. The teacher, wanting to go and talk to Johnny about his inappropriate language, asked the girl to share the word with her. The girl said she couldn’t say the word, because it was a bad word. With some cajoling, the little girl finally replied, “It is a bad word and I can’t say it but it rhymes with ‘f__ks.’

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59 Zarra October 18, 2012 at 10:58 am

I have the mouth of a truck driver so I am told .. Not so lady like I am sure.. Growing up it was a no no. And yes I can remember the taste of the bar of soap a few times.. Funny was the F-bomb was the biggest thing anyone could say ,, But yet I can only remember one time hearing in spouted in Portuguese From my Dad while fixing something. OH and one other time my grandfather being cute telling us kids all bad curse words in Portuguese.. Till My grandmother walked in and Dragged him out the room yelling hahhaa .. Being From New Jersey I can tell you that swear words have not the same impact on me as it does to some in other places.. It more just common casual conversation.. I find no offence but it at all But I do try to curb my tongue around others I know it bothers..

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60 TracieMcOB October 19, 2012 at 12:08 pm

Swearing was verboten at my home growing up. Even using euphemisms was not allowed. I have raised my sons the same, except I just can’t get them to stop using the word ‘crap’. Unfortunately, it just is the descriptive word needed at times. Funny story when I was about 10 or younger. My mother never swore, but at times she would say “damn” (almost as bad as when Rhett Butler said it) One time in a parking lot at a fabric store, my mother was backing out and hit another car. Sure enough “Damn!” came out. She pulled back in and went into the store to find out who the owner was. Back in the car, she was lamenting the accident, and she said to my sister and me, rather proudly, I think, “well, at least I didn’t say “Damn”. We just looked at each other – did n’t say a word. The memory always make me smile – knowingly. :)

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61 Sally October 19, 2012 at 6:06 pm

I’m an Australian living in America (SF Bay Area) and I have to say that on the whole Australians tend to swear a hell of a lot more than Americans. There – I did it without even thinking about it! However, we aren’t necessarily swearing in anger or to be offensive. Australians tend to swear a lot when emphasising something. An American might say that something is awesome. An Australian might say that it’s bloody awesome. If it’s really good we’ll say it’s F**king awesome. We don’t mean offence, we just really want to you to know how good it is! That said, not all our swearing is lighthearted and I do feel much more subconscious about it here than I would at home.

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62 Sally October 19, 2012 at 7:12 pm

And that was supposed to say that I feel more “self-conscious” not subconscious! Bloody subconscious stepping in and taking over while I type!

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63 Caroline October 21, 2012 at 9:58 pm

Oh I hate I am entering the discussion so late in the game! Such a great topic. My husband is originally from Venezuela and the big, busy, modern, bustling city where he grew up (much like New York) people used swear words all the time. In fact, in his city, the people are well known for a set of very-sepcific to that city swear words so if you use them in Spanish anywhere else in any other Spanish-speaking country, nobody would have a clue what you are saying.
I was raised in South Carolina where swearing is a big no-no. That being said my father is Italian and his father grew up in Manhattan (Little Italy) and swearing was not quite as big of a deal. So I feel more like you, Gabrielle. I don’t swear (unless I stub my toe REALLY bad) but it doesn’t bother me to hear it.
Speaking of which, I saw where Tom Hanks was Bleeped on a morning show for swearing. I thought it was MUCH less of a big deal than they made it out to be, and after watching the portion of the segment where he slipped-up and said a swear word, I actually felt really bad for him because it was clear he was just doing it “in character” and meant no harm.

XO

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64 Amy October 24, 2012 at 7:29 am

I had to rein in my swearing when my daughter was born. I used to be quite a foul mouth but have managed to keep it under control so my now six year old does not follow in my footsteps. Just last night I had to talk her about a little rhyme she made up which included “lucky, ducky, f—-” . I let her know that the last word would send her straight to the principal’s office at school, she then wanted to know what it meant. Oy!

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