Monday, March 17, 2014

Using Foul Language

I grew up in a very strict Christian household.  I was very sheltered, and my parents were very careful about the words they used in front of me.  They were even more careful about what sort of media influences were allowed in the home.  R-rated movies were always absolutely out of the question.  PG-13 movies were typically only watched when other friends recommended them and after they told my parents what made the movie receive the additional "-13" rating.  If the movie had less than a handful of curse words, we were allowed to watch it.  I remember my mom took us to see the movie "Uncle Buck" when I was a kid, and she walked us out of the movie theater in the first 5 minutes.

I remember the first time I had ever heard someone use the "f" word.  You see, I already knew I wasn't supposed to use the word, but I had never really heard it said by anyone or used in a sentence.  I had seen it written in graffiti before.  Prior to hearing the word used out loud, I remember participating in a contest where we had to draw an "ugly" house and what we would do to make it pretty.  It was for a sort of a "before/after" setup.  I remember drawing a picture of the dilapidated house down the street from our house.  It was overrun with weeds, had graffiti on it, had broken windows, and nobody lived there.  To make it look worse, I wrote words I had seen in graffiti before - "Fuck You" - on it.  It was just a mindless phrase to my 7 year old self, and I had no idea what it meant.  My mom got mad at me and made me color over it.  She said it was not a nice phrase and I should never use it, and that was the end of that.

The first time I heard that word said out loud, I was in 4th grade lunch room, and one of my male classmates used it in conjunction with a certain one-fingered hand gesture towards someone.  I had never seen this sort of display before, but I had heard all sorts of downtalk over the notorious "bad finger" and how it was never to be used.  I remember asking my classmate - who was agasp over the incident - about what that word meant, and they explained it to me.

About 2-3 years prior to hearing the word used in a sentence, I had already been taught a harsh lesson to never say the word - ever.  This was also sometime after the infamous "house drawing" incident.

One day when I was about 7-8 years old, I walked outside of my room and found my older brother (between 11-12 years old) laying on the floor with a dictionary open to the "F" section.  I asked him what he was doing, and he said he was looking words up.  He pointed to one particular "F" word - oh yes, the notorious "F" word - and showed it to me.

Since I was still used to the process of sounding words out, I sounded it out.  "Fuuuuck?"  I said.  My brother gasped, and said "*GASP*!  Ummmm!  You said a bad word.  I'm 'gonna tell mom and daaaad."  Now, keep in mind, I didn't even have time to read the definition of the word.  His hand was partially covering it anyway since he was pointing to the word.  I didn't get to read that it was considered a curse word.  I just saw a word, sounded it out, and that was it.

He jumped up and started heading towards my parents' room.  I begged and pleaded with him to not tell them, but he was insistent.  He walked into their room and told them I said the "F" word.  This ignited an absolute RAGE in my parents, particularly my father.  No further questions were asked.  The judge, jury, and executioner made a unanimous decision, and that decision meant I was to receive a beating to my raw butt.

To be quite honest, I didn't really remember the word after that.  All I remembered was that my brother got me in trouble, my parents got really mad at me, and apparently I said a bad word that I shouldn't have.  There also wasn't any talk about why it was wrong to say it or how I heard it.  If there had been a little more investigation, I'd imagine my brother would have been the recipient of said beating instead!  After all, he was the one looking up "bad" words!  (For the record, even though I realize - with an adult perspective - just how incredibly messed up that entire incident was, no, I do not hold any animosity towards my brother over this incident.  After all, he was just a kid too.)

Years later, I remember saying a Spanish curse word in front of one of my friends.  This friend was a bilingual Mexican, and she was about 18 years older than me.   I was about 13-14 years old.  For the first time in my life, she actually gave me a taste of what could only be described as appropriate discipline.  I said the word, she corrected me, told me what it meant, why it was offensive, and told me I shouldn't say it again.  I remember asking her if she was going to tell my parents about it (since I could quite vividly recall the last time I was beaten for saying a "bad" word), and she said "No, you didn't know any better.  But now you do, so just don't say it again."  Wow!  Just thinking back to that incident makes me tear up a little bit because it was truly one of the first times anyone had ever tried to correct me - especially over something that was frowned upon, religiously - without severely punishing me.  I have since reached out to her and thanked her for that little lesson and how well she handled it because it meant so much to me at the time.

All of these experiences have shaped me and the way I plan to approach foul language with my future children.

Truth be told, I say curse words.  I curtail them when I am in the office.  I curtail them in written form.  I curtail them in my social media.  I curtail them when I am around older folks and young, impressionable children.  I curtail them when I do business dealings in general.  I might not always be perfect at curtailing my own language during these situations, but I do try to make a conscious effort to watch my tongue.

I know my children are going to hear words that will not be age-appropriate.  I think the most important part of this is to let them know what you expect of them.  I'm not going to get upset if my 13 year old says words like that around their friends or when they're frustrated at their work.  After all, I'm sure they might hear me say those words sometimes too.  At the same time, I don't want to receive phone calls from the mothers of my 6 year old's playmates, complaining about the type of language he/she is using.  When it comes to swearing, this is basically what I plan to tell my children:
Some people get very offended over certain words. Some are offensive because they used to be said with hatred and racism behind them, and I don't ever want to hear you say those words - never, under any circumstances. Other words are just considered "curse" or "swear" words that people say when they're upset, angry, or frustrated. I'd prefer that you wouldn't get in the habit of saying those things because I can tell you from experience, it's hard to remove words like that from your vocabulary and filter yourself when you need to - like at work, at school, in speeches, in business dealings, around young kids, and around older folks - when those words aren't appropriate. If you want to show the world you're an intelligent, articulate young lady/man, then you need to be careful about what you say. If you use words that are considered to be 'offensive' then your message won't be heard because they will be focusing more on how offended they are instead of focusing on what you said. If you hear someone say a word that you think or heard is a curse word, ask me about it, and I will tell you *if* it is a curse word, why it's a curse word, and whether or not you will ever be allowed to say it. There are some highly offensive words that I simply will not tolerate you saying, such as the c-word, n-word, and other racial slurs. People invent new curse phrases all the time, so we will handle these things on a case-by-case basis as you discover them.
The thing is, kids are going to hear curse words.  This is a fact of life.  Sheltering kids from these things doesn't mean they're never going to encounter this sort of language.   You can't control that.  What you can control is setting appropriate expectations with them.  I want my kids to know why they should try to avoid over-peppering their language with words such as these, and I want them to know that (seemingly) the whole world can be watching their every move when they are online, in front of children, in school, in the office, etc.  Still, I think emphasis on when and where one should not use the language is the most important part of it.  They are going to move out of the house one day, and decisions such as choosing to use foul language will be entirely up to them.  I don't expect my children to be perfect, but I do want them to know how to have their messages heard.

After all, when you first encounter an individual who says a curse word every five words or so, is your first impression anything along the lines of "He/she's very intelligent!"  No.  If you want an audience to listen to you, use language that shows you are an articulate, intelligent human being, you have something important to say, and maybe they will listen to you.