31 August 2012

On Swearing

In certain trying circumstances, urgent circumstances, desperate circumstances, profanity furnishes a relief denied even to prayer. -Mark Twain

After musing with mum-friends over cake and lemon bars about kids and profanity, I had a thoughtful internal discussion with myself on the topic. I'm not yet a big parenting book reader, bypass trending parenting fads, and have let myself be mostly led by instinct. I don't often just sit and think about parenting theory unless we have an immediate issue to consider. My deep respect and insatiable appetite for language, though, got me seriously contemplating how I'd like to eventually talk to my kids about, well, talking.

I want a child who understands language, not one who is fearful of it. I am much more impressed with a (n older) kid who can swear appropriately than one who avoids certain words completely. Granted, I'm not talking about five-year olds. But there does come a point when lessons about context and discourse communities become productive. For instance, dropping a glass alone in the kitchen with a $%&#! is certainly not the same as &$^% you, perhaps not even in the same genre of communication. A twelve-year old initiating a friendly peer conversation outside of school with a "Hey, @$$#*%^!" and a high-five is in a completely different galaxy than coming home after school to a parent with the same greeting. On the parenting end, there's also the matter of context; wanting your child to know how to swear is not synonymous with wanting your child to swear.

As a parent of a toddler, I'm not yet sure when the point in parenting arises to start a conversation about language's forbidden fruits. What I do know is this: what is important to us as parents guides us in our daily interactions with our children. What's right for one family might fit another like a bad pair of heels. Language, to me, is beautiful mathematics around which the earth rotates. It drives the way we humans treat each other, fall in love, go to war, paw at the world around us until we find meaning. To me, having a solid grasp of it, of all facets of it, is vital, irreplaceable with any other kind of knowledge.

Profanity with purpose serves a purpose; it is, at times, a plea and, at others, emphasis of joy, of anger, of frustration. Some of the greatest orators I know use fuck eloquently enough to draw a teary ovation at a PTA meeting, which I consider undiluted success.

I wish you all a damn fine weekend.