When my daughter was in primary school, I think it was the third grade or something like that, she came home shortly after school had begun for that year, and later, after we’d caught up about her day, she headed into her room to play with her Barbie dolls. Suddenly the air wafting from her room turned blue! What was that word she used? Oh my gosh—it began with the letter “F.” And she said it loudly! I rushed in and asked where Barbie had heard that word. “Oh,” said my daughter. “That was actually Ken. We have a boy in our class that uses that word a lot. I thought it was a ‘boy’ word, so Ken could say it.”
Well, here we are—a teachable moment—so I sat down with my daughter and Ken, of course.
We talked about “bad” words and how some people use them all the time, but those words were not particularly imaginative and not supposed to be used in regular conversation, certainly not by my daughter or Barbie and her friends. My daughter wanted to know what words she could substitute without getting into trouble.
Immediately I flashed back to my own mother and her reaction to bad words and, in my case, I was being defiant and told my mom to go to heck. Boy was I in trouble! Her answer? She grabbed me along with a washcloth and a bar of Ivory soap. She thoroughly, and I do mean thoroughly, washed my mouth out. Needless to say, to this very day I cannot stand even being around Ivory soap. I know just what it tastes like, and I sure learned about the consequences of using naughty words.
I couldn’t imagine doing the same thing to my child, so coming up with good substitute words was a lot more constructive in my mind than washcloths and soap. Words like “Drat” and “Curses” and “Rats” immediately sprang to mind. We sat there and thought up a few more—“Fudge” being the big winner. “I like that one,” my daughter proclaimed. “And it starts with the same letter as the bad word!”
“What about switching letters,” she asked a little later on. I could tell she’s been mulling this a lot. “Could we say ‘Ship’ instead of using the other “S” word? And maybe ‘Cluck’ instead of that other bad word?”
“I don’t see why not,” I replied. “Just use your imagination and come up with something silly and fun to say instead of those boring old swear words that people tend to use too much.” That resonated, and the next day after school my daughter was delighted to tell me that she had her friends using those words, too. “We even made some up,” she grinned. “Now we say, ‘Oh, Truck’ and ‘Oh, Flip’ instead of those bad words. Even the teacher thinks it’s kind of funny. Remember that boy who was swearing all the time? He likes those different words, too!”
These days I notice the F-Bomb rolls off some people’s tongues like water—every other word in fact. I believe the English language, at least the spoken language, has become constricted because of it. I wish I was wrong, but it seems to be the case more and more, especially among young people. I guess it’s considered cool. So, here I am lamenting, and that sure makes me sound like an old fuddy-duddy, but I think coming up with imaginative words that won’t turn the air blue or purple makes a lot more sense. And, to quote an old fisherman friend of mine—“Cod Clam it—I’ve Haddock with the swear words! I just can’t Hake it anymore!”