And worse, when it comes to this subject, I'm a do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do mom. My older two kids know that they are not allowed to say "bad" words, and 99.9% of the time, they don't. At least, not while I'm around. And my four-year-old son knows it too. But unlike his older brother and sister, who usually just stomp off and sulk -- no doubt thinking plenty of bad words to themselves -- he has come up with a very creative solution:
"Mannit!" "Damage!" "SoMany Itch!" "Sit!" and, my new personal favorite, "Fox!"It makes a mother so very proud.
Now, I know that with very young children, you need to keep the rules simple and absolute. The shades-of-gray in life can be taught as kids get old enough to understand. So when he does this, we enforce the rules, and remind him that they are also "bad" words ("Little boys shouldn't say those words, and Mommy shouldn't say them either.") even though, technically, they're not.
But it got me to thinking about other "bad" words. Most kids -- mine included -- consider stupid to be a "bad" word. A couple months ago, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, was widely criticized for referring to liberal activists as "f***ing retarded." And the criticism had nothing to do with the "f***ing" part of the quote. The Special Olympics is even waging a public awareness campaign to end the use of the "r-word." This doesn't even begin to touch on the stigma of uttering or writing the "c-word" or the "n-word."
Really, when you are a grown, thinking adult, are any of the many vulgar words in the English language really "bad?" My son saying mannit! or damage! instead of dammit! doesn't change the thoughts or emotions behind the outburst. He's pissed, and he's letting the world know it. The words people use, and the way they choose to use those words, communicates volumes, both about the subject being discussed, and the people involved in the discussion. I don't think I have ever uttered the "c-word" or the "n-word" and, as the mother of a child on the autism spectrum, I'm more sensitive to the derogatory use of retard. But, in writing a fictional character, I would use those words if I thought they would best convey to the reader what I want them to know -- and feel -- about the character.
We can conduct our public awareness campaigns and attach a stigma to certain words, or even go the Orwellian route of changing definitions to suit our agendas, or banning dictionaries from our schools, but the thoughts, meanings and emotions we have will always find an outlet. You can call a word "bad," but Mannit! there will always be another to take its place.
Referenced links: The 7 Words You Can't Say on TV, Rahm Emanuel comments and fallout, the Campaign to End the 'R-Word', Dictionary banned from California School District