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On Cursing and Swearing

I walked into my local elementary school yesterday after most of the children were gone. I admit being curious as to why a young 3rd grader might be standing frozen at the junction of the main hall and the exit. It was past time to leave so I wondered what had him glued to the corner. As I had entered the door which was still locked, a young mom had walked ahead of me and straight toward this young boy who was now cowering like a scared rabbit. He was in trouble and I could tell by the look in his eyes this was NOT going to sound pleasant.

In the author’s own voice…

Let’s just say I wasn’t prepared for the splatter of four-letter words—and others I didn’t expect to hear in an elementary school hall. I was minding my own business but my presence didn’t slow any part of this assault down one little bit.

Like an embarrassed bystander, I left that poor boy alone with the monster who turned him every way but loose. I felt guilty for abandoning him but I had come for an important meeting and I was running a little late.

Strangely enough, one of the topics of the meeting was the disagreement among adults at that school about whether the language of a 1st grader should be corrected when it contains the words I had just heard in the hall. Please understand that my ears were splattered plenty in my own school while growing up and my friends heard plenty of those words from my mouth as well. I understand reality.

Knowing that I would go on record today about a controversial subject, I spent some time reading what others had to say. From Facebook to Readers Digest to the LATimes, most of the first page of the search was clearly offered in defense of swearing in front of children under the guise that “no scientific study shows any harm comes,” or some other lame excuse. The only prohibition seemed to be if these words were being used at someone (like my experience upon entering the school) rather than simply as garnish on the plate served to those around us.

Words inspire or ignite. It’s that simple. Since Spock noted upon traveling in time to modern day California in Star Trek 4, “colorful metaphors” seem to punctuate the speech of most. Even Kirk noted that “nobody pays any attention to you unless you swear every other word.” Words can ignite our passion or can incite a riot. The same mouth can use different words that cause another person to actually want to do what we want them to do. Like the proverbial honey vs. vinegar. Clearly the parent in my story intended for some action to result from their tirade.

It would seem logical if no one likes being sweared at, the use of those words to garnish our plate would be equally unpalatable. If swearing generally shows a lack of respect for someone we are actively “chewing out,” doesn’t it stand to reason that using those same words for punctuation would be equally distasteful?

Let’s be clear that children get their words from home, not from school. Every parent has had to define new words for their child on the first day of school but those words came from a home, not really from the school. How we speak around our kids matters. Words build up or they tear down. In a world where bullying is done as much by parents as by peers, shouldn’t we be more interested in building up?

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