jueves, 31 de diciembre de 2015

Bad words

Are words good or bad? Some parents tell their children there are 'bad' words. What do they mean by that? That the words will hurt them? Not really, because those words some people consider bad don't actually do any harm at all. By general consensus, the evil of all words is Fuck (I think it deserves the capital because in the word realm it's like Satan) and its derivatives. You know the one, also referred to by children when there are adults around as the F word. This always makes me cringe and I have to suppress the urge to yell at them: 'Just say it, you know you want to!'

Swearing to me is like TV or video games. I don't usually do it, but I have nothing against it. I don't claim any moral virtue by not doing any of these activities. I don't play chess either. Sometimes I don't finish all the food on my plate, even though there are kids starving in Japan.

I've been around people who swear all the time. It doesn't bother me, although people who use 'freaking' or 'fucking' every three words sound to me like they have a very poor vocabulary and I soon find their discourse boring. I have nothing against the words per se. When I was in college the frequency with which some people used 'like' and 'you know' irritated me just the same. Maybe it's a learning process for some people. I've noticed, for example, that my children and their friends seem to be quite obsessed with the word 'epic' and the phrase 'by the way'.

The only times swear words bother me is when they come out with anger or frustration. When I first got married I noticed my husband swore when he was angry. It made me so anxious that I asked him not to do it, especially when we had children. I understood then that it was my problem and it was related to my own childhood. To this day, my father swears when he's angry or frustrated, so, pretty much on a daily basis. When we visit, the boys imitate him and, I must admit, it's very funny to hear them swear in Spanish. It makes me laugh when they do it because they are not angry, they're just pretending to be. I don't know what my husband back then thought when I asked him not to swear because I couldn't stand it. Whatever it was, he stopped doing it. I don't think I've ever heard him swear around the children.

As a consequence of this, for years I'd been saying to my friends that Dave and Alex were so innocent when it came to swearing that they hadn't even heard the word Fuck. They certainly didn't say it, when most kids their age used it at least when they were under the radar. Most people said to me the reason was that they don't go to school. I had no opinion on that, but my friends insisted that the swearing in school is like the viruses in kindergarten: one kid brings it from home and gives it to all the others.

There is some truth in that: if you cage thirty kids in a classroom and one of them is sick or swears, there are more chances of the rest catching the virus as opposed to having thirty kids running around in the open. My children have never been enclosed in a room with thirty other kids, but they are not isolated. They interact with lots of children, both schooled and unschooled. And it turns out that unschooled and homeschooled children swear too.

Once I heard an unschooled four-year-old girl say, 'I'm so fucking sick of this!' She was just playing to make believe, and I couldn't suppress a laugh. Her mother was embarrassed, though, and apologised to me. She said, 'She gets it from her father.' I thought it was cute; it didn't bother me.

There is another unschooled child we spent a lot of time with a few months ago. He's now eight, but his swearing was already quite impressive at five. He used it for everything: when he was happy and when he wasn't. I never heard his mother swear, so I had to ask her where he got it from. The first time we met, three years ago, she told me it was from the films he watched. Later, when we had developed a close friendship, she admitted it was from her. 'I swear a lot. I do it when I'm angry, although I try not to because it scares my child. But when I'm not angry, swearing makes me feel good,' she said. When her child got angry, his swearing and insults were very hurtful, but that's a topic I will discuss another day, because at least two of my dear friends disagree with me that verbal and psychological violence is as bad as physical violence. In fact, it might be even worse. 'Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me' my arse. Words hurt because of the emotion they are used with.

A couple of weeks ago I was playing a board game with Dave, Alex, and one of their friends. We were all happy, but Dave got a bad roll of the dice and said, 'What the fuck!' His friend giggled and gave me a sidelong glance to check if I had heard. I had but I was so startled that thought I had misheard. 'What did you just say?' I asked truly curious. 'I'm sorry, mummy,' Dave said surprising me even more. 'Why are you sorry? No need to apologise. I just want to check that I heard right.' He admitted: 'I said what the fuck. Bill says it all the time.'

Aha! I thought. Bill (not his real name) is the eight-year-old with the PhD in swearing. But he's travelling and we haven't seen him for over two months. I wondered if Dave had been using this expression for two months without me noticing? Or even worse, had he been using it when he was sure I was far from earshot?

'There is nothing wrong with saying what the fuck,' I said. His friend looked at me with wide open eyes, but I ignored him. 'Taylor says fuck is a bad word,' Dave said. Taylor is another friend they had spent a lot of time with lately. I know his parents and I could see why he would think 'fuck' is a bad word. But if it's so bad, why are they talking about it? I said: 'Well, that's a matter of opinion. Some parents think 'fuck' is a bad word, but I don't think it is always bad. Did it hurt you when you said it? It didn't hurt me or anyone else. It made us laugh, so you used it well.'