Foul language gone Wilde
Oscar Wilde, the famous 19th century Irish poet once said: “The expletive is the refuge of the semi-literate”. In other words; swearing is for dumb heads.
Well, all I can say is, if the ‘refuge’ was an actual place, it would be packed to the rafters—considering the number of foul-mouthed ‘dumb heads’ around these days. And yes, okay, I might be among their number too at times, I admit. (Before anyone starts calling me a hypocrite because they’ve heard me say naughty words). Yes, we 21st century folk certainly say lots of words that would’ve made our Victorian ancestors’ hair curl.
As a kid, while I soon became aware of most swear words (mainly thanks to the neighbourhood kids who were clearly more world-wise than me) I would never dare use them. And, even though my Dad, an ex-army pugilist and a Scotsman to boot (apparently a very bad combo for swear-ability) was always pretty careful not to swear around us kids or in public, I still, in fact, heard my first F Bomb from his own lips.
Wrestling angrily with some recalcitrant piece of machinery in our shed one summer’s day, he must have mistakenly either thought the tin shed walls were soundproof or that nobody was home. Neither was the case, but I didn’t dare mention it to Mum who, for her part, was definitely not a swearer. In fact, the worst thing I ever heard Mum say was when she called our kelpie “Face Ache” as he persistently tried to herd her around the clothesline. I thought this was hilarious.
In her later years, after a severe stroke had sadly stolen much of her capacity to remember words, she adopted the unlikely (for her) “Bugger Awful!” when things displeased her. Coming from my Mum it was priceless.
Then much later on, came my own parenting days. We were always careful to keep it pretty nice around the kids and I used to warn them thus (and forgive me Oscar): “Only dumb people swear because they are too stupid to know any better words.”
The kids got it (I guess no-one likes to be labelled as stupid) and pretty much refrained from using bad language. Well, aside from the time I heard one of them screaming “‘Eff’ Off!” from a tree house, as his brothers pelted him with rocks. He later pleaded provocation (when Mum threatened the mustard) and fortunately got off on a good behaviour bond—and two nights without Inspector Gadget.
My general swearing advice to the kids was this. I didn’t actually care what they said when they were some place where no-one could hear them. BUT (and this was my big stipulation) if there was even just one person within earshot who might be offended, they were not to do it.
I’m not sure how effective this advice actually was but the fact that the kids spent quite a lot of time down at the river suggests maybe they had more words to get off their chests than I realised. If only the gum trees could tell the tale!
But anyway, a while ago I was out with my sons (now young men) when one of them accidentally dropped an Effy. Before I’d even raised an eyebrow in protest, he quickly apologised to me. My heart swelled with maternal pride that my child was so considerate, until his brother chimed in that what he’d said was nothing compared to what he usually says! Hmph! I consoled myself that at least he usually respected me enough to zip it in my presence.
More recently, the morning after a local outdoor rock concert, I commented to Number Three Son that I wished the band hadn’t sworn so much as the microphones were carrying the offensive words all over town.
Number Three just rolled his eyes and said, “Will you just get over this swearing thing, Mum? It’s just part of life today. Everyone does it, but you make such a big deal out of it!”
“So you don’t have a problem with it then?” I asked him. He nodded emphatically.
“You’re okay with people swearing anytime and any place, are you?” I continued. He nodded again and rolled his eyes at his father for added effect.
“Well, okay then,” I said sweetly, “How about *Effing* getting your own *Effing* breakfast then?”
Number Three nearly fell off his chair! His face registered shock and horror; evidently he had no idea that his preachy-no-swear mother was capable of letting rip with some of the big guns. He was lost for words.
The spouse and I fell about laughing.
Isn’t it funny how something’s okay until your mother does it?
I guess it’s all a matter of perspective, as Number Three discovered that morning. Sorry Oscar, but when it comes to teaching lessons, we 21st Century mums have to work with what we’ve got.
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