Golly gosh she cussed

St Francis Bay freelance journalist Beth Cooper-Howell takes a look at the other side of life in Woman on Top, her weekly lifestyle column for The Herald. 



Should we allow our children to swear or not? That is the question put by Beth Cooper Howell in her Woman on Top column today

We may have thought censorship was ruthless in the bad old days, but nothing makes you mind your Ps and Qs better – or teaches you how to channel-change lightning-quick, like a ninja – than becoming a parent.

I am an expressive person, but swearing isn’t my strong suit. I don’t use the F-word as effectively as my husband when I bang my toe. It comes out wrong and sounds silly – this has as much to do with me being of conservative Scottish descent as it does with me being a girl.

A six-foot, bellowing man with a stubbed baby-toe sounds genuinely and appropriately enraged when he yells four-letter profanities at the offensive table leg. I sound like the inside of a helium balloon.

As a result, I haven’t had to censor myself much around the kids, because if I do start hissing the S-word after burning rice, it naturally deflates in the heat of the steam – I sound stupid when I swear, so generally, I don’t.

But with a tween in the house – that awkward, sweet age before teenagehood – it was inevitable that the topic of banned words would crop up.

She has learned a few and, since I’m obsessed with modern parenting and thus honest and open communication, isn’t afraid to utter them in the bath under the pretext of curiosity.

In truth, she likes the idea that her mom isn’t going to reach for a wooden spoon at the first sign of experimental words beginning with ‘F’ and ending in ‘K’.

It’s not that I encourage kids – or anyone, actually – to swear. It’s just that I used to have proper jobs before becoming a mom; and when I was a high school English teacher, the history and linguistic heritage of a swear word were more interesting to me than the fact that a 15-year-old had said it – horrors! – in my presence.

As a writer, I understand better than most that words have immense power. As a person, I also know that there’s no truth at all in the adage, sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.

Mostly, as a woman, I know that to ban something makes it more tempting – like never having chocolate in the house. Bad move.

The hot topic of inappropriate words never goes out of vogue – I’ve yet to find a group of women who swear thickly, like a bunch of troopers. And we like it that way, as we enjoy projecting ourselves as the more genteel, controlled sex.

Also, swearing at someone is the verbal equivalent of hitting them with a stick; the intent and feeling behind the word or action is the issue, because mostly, if we’re going to clobber someone, call them nasty names or swear at them, we’re angry and nursing violent thoughts.

This is perhaps the main reason why we’re so terrified of our children’s potty mouths: if she’s capable of saying that, then what else is she capable of doing? And in so doing, ruining my reputation?

Researchers reportedly have found that swearing, done in the heat of the moment, may actually have a cathartic effect – it can make us feel better after being injured, or hurt emotionally.

And that’s how I roll with my daughter’s curiosity in this field. If she’s going to lose control and hurl a word at someone, that word is likely to start with “F” or “S” and end in disaster – which isn’t okay.

But if she’s banged her toe, it’s quite okay to mutter it aggressively under her breath, or inside her head, as science may yet prove that a bit of good, old-fashioned cursing is the psychological equivalent of a Disney plaster.

And no amount of “good golly gosh, that was eina!” is going to make the pain go away – it’s better to do it like her mother does and be a helium balloon, just for a moment.

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