My grandmother would be mortified.
Somewhere in my teenage years, the goody two-shoes in me learned to swear like a sailor. It was probably along the same time I learned to sail. Sailing was surprisingly competitive, and the kids would verbally abuse one another brutally all in the name of winning a boat race. Hell's Kitchen for me was a 14 foot Blue Jay on the Long Island Sound.
I tell myself that I have toned it down since I had children, but my husband would probably not agree. I maintain that there is a big difference between cursing in front of someone and cursing at them. Still, my grandmother would be horrified. She was very proper about her language, and I grew up in an era where you couldn't even say "Oh god!" with out being taken to task for it.
A couple of weeks ago, Piper called Tigger out for exactly that phrase, and I had to turn away in order not to show how surprised I was by it. I live in a world now where religion is more of a suggestion. I often find myself doing a mental double take when I discover others who take it more seriously. "Oh god," is just one of those phrases that's in the vernacular, no one seems to think much about it, or its orgins anymore, like "awesome."
Oh, and it's not that Piper takes the religion thing any more seriously, in fact he seems to fall farther on the atheist side of agnostic than I do.
Thinking back, I seem to recall that our elders' objections to bad language were as much about linguistic laziness as coarseness or disrespect.
And then there are time that I just can't figure out what it's about. Like this time in the fifth grade when I was called out on the carpet for a misshapen letter.
I can't remember the exact reason I turned in my assignment in an envelope. It might even have been a letter writing exercise, I'm not sure. For whatever reason, I thought it would be funny to put a fake return address on the back of the envelope. Instead of ending with a ZIP Code, that address ended in the phrase "and so forth and such and such." Even without completing the reading of that phrase, you know what the last word is supposed to be.
Let's just say that my handwriting was never up to Private School standards, and in my version of the phrase, the last word looked distinctly like "suck." Ms. Lockhardt called me up to her desk, and in a very stern voice, she asked me why I had written it. Did I realize it was a very, very, bad word, and did I know what it meant?
Well, no, in my fifth grade, ten year-old innocence, I had no idea what it meant. She managed to make me feel so horribly embarrassed that I started to cry, and then I had to go back to my desk in that condition. When I think about it now, and how clearly accidental my part in it was, I'm still wondering why on earth she felt she had to do that, and then how ridiculous it seems in the context of our comparatively lax our standards are 30 years later. That word, in particular, is something we use without thinking; most kids are using it regularly, hopefully without any knowledge of the origin.
I know there are people who might consider this and point to it as a contributing factor in the coarsening of our political debate, but I'm not sure. Again, the difference between cursing in front of, and cursing at a person. It also doesn't take the use of curse words to tear a person down; something the bullies in my fifth grade class proved every day.
In an era when mothers are blogging about their kids knowing the words to songs from the Ramones and the Violent Femmes, is there room to be concerned about their language?
Pumpkin has the uncanny ability to pick up bad words and use them in context without ever recognizing the inappropriateness of the situation. He's come up with some doozies I'm pretty sure he did not get from me. But who know? Last night found the four of us crowded around the computer watching clips of The Young Ones on YouTube. I expect him to start using the word "bahstahrd" any day now.