swearing as a creative act

Luc, almost 7 now, has these awesome swear words.  I’m brushing his hair and it catches and pulls and he shouts, “Potato!”  Or I say, “Time for baths,” and he stalks by me muttering, “old man smell.”  Or Sophie snatches the game controller out of his hand and he angrily spins around and says, “Poop you!”

I find these creative linguistic outbursts delightful.  He isn’t choosing them because he hasn’t heard his parents, ahem, swear up a blue streak, because, despite our initial efforts to rein ourselves in in front of the kids, Paul and I helplessly swear all the time.  So the kids know fuck, shit, damn, piss, etc, and could use them if they chose.  To off-set our failings at self-censorship, we’ve tried to make clear that there is a time and place for these words. Don’t say this list of words in front of that person, or in this context, or at that event, and not only that, it is MUCH worse in the eyes of many people for a kid to swear than an adult—and the kids really seem to get all of this.  Thus, Luc’s made-up swears.  Because sometimes, you need a verbal expulsion of emotion, without the hassle of being treated as a Kid Who Swears. He’s such a creative, funny, smarty.

Kids have to put up with such hypocritical double standards in our culture. It’s disgusting, really.

Oh, oh, remember that scene in the “Blues Brothers” where Elwood and Jake can’t stop swearing in front of Sister Mary Stigmata? HAHAHAHA.

Omg that scene never fails to crack me up.  Maybe because, unlike my kids, I’m terrible with the accidental swearing.  My kids are so much better at not doing it than I am!  Maybe it’s because I love swearing so much?  Part of me just wants to swear! I’m incorrigible.

What is swearing anyway?  Cursing, to curse someone or something, that is, to fling bad mojo on someone.  Swearing, to promise or make an oath about something.  All confused with the words themselves…I mean, we’re making noises with our mouths by forcing the air from our lungs through the variable shaped openings that our lips, tongue, teeth and larynx can make, and using these sounds to stand in for ideas, concepts, and things.  But then some of these air-squirting sounds, in some contexts, are whackable offenses (see that Blue’s Brother’s clip, HA).  But, of course, it isn’t the sound alone, because you can name your business “Dick’s Sporting Goods” (a real place down the road from here!), but saying “suck my dick” is frowned upon in many venues.  And, of course, it isn’t the meaning of the words either: penis is ok, prick is not, though both are referring to the same piece of equipment.   It isn’t even communicating the word: have you noticed that you can write f**k now with impunity?  Newspapers can use it in their headlines, as if that asterisk is covering up the word’s private bits.  But we all know what the word is, right?

It might be the intent to hurt.  As Rue Kream says in her wonderful book Parenting a Free Child: An Unschooled Life, you can use any word to inflict pain.  Peanut can be a “bad” word, as in “you have a brain the size of a peanut.”

But even there—I can imagine saying “you have a brain the size of a peanut” with affection to my cat, and I can imagine saying it with derogatory condescension, aimed to hurt, in anger.  Yeah, I’m thinking to curse someone, to swear to hurt someone…it’s the intent.  Confused with literalism that says “it’s the words” when it isn’t.

A year or so ago I was cleaning up the yurt and ran across a piece of paper with the following carefully written-out list:

bech, doosh-bag, shet, godam, fuk, beeyatch, dikhed, ashol.

I reckon the kids were trying to make sense of the odd world of swearing by listing out all the words they could think of that qualified.  It’s a pretty good list.  They left off a few of my favorites, but that’s all right.  They’ll pick them up later, I’m sure.  I love that bitch and bee-yatch get their own entries.  Paul said I should totally keep it to show to the home-schooling police if they ever do a drop-in visit.  “See?  They’re learning to write!”  Um…yeah?

We watched this wonderful movie called “Kooky,” made in part by the same guy who designed Machinarium, Botanicula, and Samorost, some of our favorite point-and-click games.  His art is whimsical and fun, but with a dark streak of truth running through its center.  In the movie a pink teddy bear named Kooky goes on a scary and daring adventure and meets a wonderful character usually called “the Captain,” a wise old…root-shaped thing, I don’t know what he is, actually…who grumbles like old men will, often saying, “god damn…”  He says this so fervently and comically that by the end of the movie he has acquired the nick name “Captain Goddamn” and is called this with great affection and a straight face by the other characters, including the human boy who longs to meet him.  I highly recommend the movie (even though it is in an English dub and I can almost never tolerate a dub–this one is largely puppets, so the dub works.  Try to bear it during the live-action portions.).  We loved this movie with its amazing art design, funny characters, action, drama, humor.  And, with regards to swearing, I thought it was interesting and amusing to watch “goddamn” go from being a swear word to being a loving nick-name.  Language is flexible and ever-changing.

Another show we like, “Adventure Time,” has done some interesting things with swearing, not unlike Luc’s made up words.  “What the lump?”  or “Math that!” says Finn, the main character.  It’s kind of a kid’s version of the “Battlestar Gallactica” approach, “Does anyone else think this plan is frakking nuts?”  Which was just a riff on “Farscape’s” frell, as in “Merry Frelling Christmas.”  This is using the grammatical structure for swearing and filling in the word spot with something reminiscent of the swear word, without actually saying the word itself.  Like f**k, which visually does the same thing.  A way around the literal rules of censorship.  A self-imposed bleep.

Luc’s swear words are, perhaps, him bleeping himself in a creative and funny way.

I kind of don’t want him to.  I want him to say whatever the fuck he wants to say, because I sure as hell do, and he should have the same freedom.  On the other hand, as a nearly 7 year old, he doesn’t have the same freedoms as I do.  He has few legal rights, after all.  I can legally beat him, up to a point, and suffer no ill consequences. Which is just fucked up.

On the other hand, I adore his solution, like the misspelled swear word list.  The kids will learn to spell and lose the creativity of figuring it out for themselves and that seems like both a gain and something lost.

There’s the balance of childhood right there, isn’t it?

Man I LOVE a good swearing rant.  Creative swearers have all my respect.  I write down prime examples.  And then I lose the scraps of paper I have written them on and then I find them later, these strange slips of paper that say odd things like, “watch me stick that turn signal right up his ass,” (found that one yesterday). Or a favorite I found sometime last spring scrawled on the back of a napkin, “cock juggling thunder-cunt” I mean, wtf, right? It’s pure poetry, but was it something I heard overheard somewhere? A movie? I have no idea. So I just stand there looking at the napkin, bemused, trying to remember what the hell that was all about…

One of my favorite tumblrs: fuckyeahswearing.  Always cheers me up.  Is there something wrong with me?  If there is, I know I’m not the only one.

I have gotten comments on this blog scolding me for swearing—on my very own blog! I mean, they came to me!—people writing to tell me “kids could be reading, why do you swear? there is no good reason to use these words!”  Honestly, I don’t know what to make of this.  I think it gets somewhat phobic for some people.  I knew a gal who couldn’t stand the word nipple, she would kind of cringe and cover her ears if we, her friends, said it—which made it super hard not to work it into conversations constantly. (Oh, how we used to torment her.)  Or, hey, I heard a mom recently saying her family doctor, an older woman, had gone right off the rails when the woman’s six year old son had said, “this sucks.”  She, the doctor, had had a real problem with the word “sucks.”  Which is crazy, if you ask me, like insisting the world not wear purple anymore, or not show ankles, or never wink. Like swear words throughout time, there is linguistic drift where the outliers become normative. Fuck, once terrifying, is now common. “Suck” may have once referred to blow-jobs but now it’s a pretty mainstream word. You can’t stop this shit from happening.

Other words are getting lost though, have you noticed? “Fuck” may be becoming normal (at least in its f**k form), but pussy, nuts and even words like tea-bag and cream are nearly gone off the deep end into profanity. It’s inevitable. It’s how language works.

Anyway, I certainly support people not wanting to hear stuff they don’t want to hear.  Like I don’t want to hear booger jokes while I’m eating and I don’t watch cruelty porn, because that just ain’t my thang. Yuck.  So, I’m thinking, if you don’t celebrate the joy of a well laid f-bomb, then this is not the blog for you.

Maybe I should I post a warning, “Beware! I sometimes swear!”?  Naw. Poop that.

God, where is this crazy post going? How about this: I love swearing!  Creative cursers unite!  Fuck you all!  In a good way!  Maybe I’m a writer and so I want ALL THE WORDS.  Maybe I just have a problem with authority? A rebel at heart?  Whatever. Free the words!  Old man smell!

3 thoughts on “swearing as a creative act

  1. CathyB

    If Luc hasn’t copyrighted the usage, my new go-to cuss word is definitely going to be “potato.”

    And I may have to borrow “old man smell” a time or two as well.

  2. Pingback: funniest japanese/english learning tool ever. plus, swearing! | mayaland

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