When I was in 4th or 5th grade, my best friend and I created a list of secret swear words.
These were made-up words, each corresponding to a real curse word—the ones we weren’t allowed to say.
I don’t remember using our secret swears in front of other people, we’d mostly just “curse” at each other and crack up at our clever defiance of little girl rules. It made for endless hours of inside-joke silliness. We even made them into a song. We would belt out this nonsense-word melody while walking to school, confident that no one knew we were actually singing a litany of really rude things. We thought it was hilarious. (Sorry, Mom)
We even dared to make our vocabulary more official by writing a list with two columns: Nonsense word = Forbidden curse word. At some point, though, that little piece of paper went missing. I suspected that one of our parents found it stashed where we’d hidden it and quietly made it disappear. Nothing was ever said, but our security breeched (and the joke having run its course anyway), the game faded away.
We’re both still fond of swear words, though.
You’d hope my appreciation of a good curse word would have abated when I had my own child, and I suppose it did. A little.
But you have to understand, it’s different when you have a non-verbal child. When you don’t have that little toddler running around using his/her sweet little voice to loudly repeat your foul language, you forget that you’re supposed to watch what you say around kids. So, initially I was probably a little more lax than others.
When my boy did start talking, his speech therapists said it was a good sign that he was able to repeat anything, because it showed he had the mechanics for speech and an ear for phonetics. I started to be a bit more careful at that point. I would catch myself, try to be a better role model, and clarify for him, “Oops, Mommy said a bad word, sorry” or “Don’t ever say that, honey, Mom’s a little mad.”
Do what I say, just don’t say what I say.
We were surprised to notice that these little warnings may have actually worked. Our kid could repeat any word or sound, but if my husband jokingly tried to get him to say a bad word, he wouldn’t.
That refusal, with a pause and a look of “are you serious?” to his dad, is yet another way this kid demonstrates that he understands a lot more than anyone gives him credit for.
He reminds me of that Alphabet Pal “centipede” we had for so long, the one with letters on its 26 feet. You could press his feet to hear the letters or the phonetic sounds, and there was also a setting that allowed you to spell out words for the bug to say. Except swear words. If a kid accidentally spelled out S-H-I-T, the Pal would just giggle. Those potty-mouthed programmers had fun coming up with their list of “giggle” words, I’m sure.
For a while, the only time we might hear our son purposefully say a bad word was when he was begrudgingly completing a known script. For me. Here’s what I wrote in an earlier post about one of those “proud” parenting moments:
But as he’s gotten older, we’ve started to hear a few of his own curse word substitutions.
First, there was “Aww, shhh…” He never added the “-it” but in context of whatever frustration he was facing, it was clear what he was saying.
Other parents of semi-verbal kids will back me up on this. Many of us privately rejoice if one of our kids gets in trouble for saying a bad word at school. He said a new word! In the appropriate context! Hell yes, that’s my boy! So, we usually let that “Aww, shhh” slide.
But recently, he started saying what sounded a lot like “Man, F$%# them!”
At first we were sure that wasn’t it – where did he hear that? We asked each other: I don’t say that, do you say that?!?
We’d ask him to repeat it. He wouldn’t.
We thought maybe there was a movie that had a similar line, and we were just hearing it wrong. I would say, “Hey honey, I’m not sure what you’re saying, but that sounds like a bad word, so don’t say that.” But that phrase kept reappearing, quickly becoming one of his favorite things to say.
Finally, my husband asked him to spell it out, which sometimes can help us if we don’t understand his speech.
My kid watched his dad write on the white board: Man, ______ them.
My kid hesitantly spelled out “f-l-u-f-f.”
Since then, our kid always very clearly pronounces it, “Man, fluff them.”
I think he’s trying to convince us that this is exactly what he was saying the whole time, but his grin makes me suspicious.
We still try to discourage him from saying that phrase in public, but its kind of like “Shut the front door”—an acceptable, silly substitute.
We can play too, because if we exclaim in disappointment or disbelief, “Man!” our kid will smile, nod in commiseration, and finish our sentiment, “Fluff them!”
It’s our own little inside joke. My 10-year-old self is giggling all over again.