I knew my share of swear words when I was young. The big ones; the ones that might get your mouth washed out with soap. I’m sure I learned them from friends with older brothers, and I knew not to use them around my parents.
I still use them occasionally. You wouldn’t confuse me for an angry trucker, but I can let colourful language fly with conviction when needed. (Needed in my opinion)
But I try not to swear in front of my kid. I know he knows the classic swear words (hearing your child innocently drop an f-bomb at 5 is a memorable experience), but as a family we try to instill a sense of manners in the words we use.
However, an odd sense of political correctness at school has turned words that have valid meaning into swear words for this new generation of linguistic adventurers. ‘Stupid’ is now a swear word. ‘Dumb’ is now a swear word. ‘Ugly’ is now considered a swear word. People are still undecided about ‘hell’, but that adds a whole other dimension to offending someone.
The reason is obvious. Young kids can use these words in hurtful ways; calling someone stupid is not nice and it’s unproductive.
The challenge is that if these are now considered real swear words, and these words appear in everyday life outside of school—on TV and radio and movies and t-shirts and many other situations—then there is no distinction for the power and impact of the words that are truly swear words in society. There is effectively no difference between “that’s a dumb thing to do” and “you’re a fucking idiot”; both use swear words. And if it’s okay to use the new swear words, then it’s okay to use any of them. Anywhere.
I understand that it’s hard for a toddler to grasp the concept of describing the action and not the person. (“That’s a dumb thing to do” rather than “You’re dumb”.) But to call useful words swear words because they are sometimes used improperly is lazy parenting.
So we end up with rules that are impractical—even irresponsible—and kids that will ultimately be confused. If the swear word rule is broken so frequently and easily and casually, other rules—rules that matter far more than merely offending someone—become equally arbitrary.
Lazy people make silly rules when it’s too tough to work through the problem. Lazy people also forget to control their own language around children; they forget that sometimes life needs to be G rated. But worst of all, lazy people make poor parents.