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Watch Your
Freakin' Language

by Stephen Lautens


May 5, 2000

I was in my backyard last weekend enjoying the sounds of Spring. A friendly game of pick-up baseball was in progress next door with the neighbourhood children.

It was pretty lively. I heard the crack of the bat and then the playful exhortations of the fielders: "Get it you freakin' ****. You're freakin' useless, you freakin' moron." And so forth.

Except of course the word being used wasn't "freakin'", and the players were still years away from puberty. In fact, they seemed to have a remarkable dexterity with colourful nouns, verbs and adjectives that I didn't possess until I was in college.

A lot of the children in my neighbourhood come from non-English speaking families, and I suspect their parents haven't a clue what they're really saying. They just smile and nod at how well their children are adapting to Canadian society.

Swear words are almost always the first thing you learn in any foreign language. They're much more useful than telling the world that the pen of your aunt is blue.

I had a French teacher devote an entire class in high school to the more offensive words found in the language of love. Of course, that was in the 70s when brown corduroy was in and the education system was so painfully trying to be hip.

I didn't hear my mother swear until I was almost thirty. She had made one of her famous "Jackie Surprise" casseroles for dinner and was lifting it out of the oven. There was a hole in the oven mitt and she hollered when the hot dinner touched her bare skin. The glass pan hit the tile floor and there were noodles everywhere. I was the only witness to this catastrophe (although I never liked anything for dinner with "surprise" in the title) and we both stood in silence looking down at the floor.

Until my mother calmly uttered the only real swearword I have ever heard come from her lips. Then we both started laughing and ordered a pizza.

In spite of being around a newsroom all his life, Dad never swore. But if a story required it, he would whisper the first three letters of the offending word in your ear.

One of the few times my father heard me swear was when I was ten and stubbed my toe on a step. My yelling "dammit" is considered tame enough now, but the reaction from my father was such that my expletives were deleted for quite some time.

Neither of my parents were prudes. They just taught me that the English language is a rich form of expression on its own. Every language has its share of swearwords for a reason. They're there for moments of pain, anger or surprise. But we've been bombarded by them to the point that they've pretty much lost their meaning now.

Music videos have every other word bleeped out, so its impossible to know what they're singing about. I suppose they want you to buy the CD just to read the unedited lyrics.

The result is the overly free use of these Saxon phrases that would have made a Saxon blush. And they didn't have to sit next to trash-talkers on the bus while you're in the company of your eighty year old grandmother or impressionable toddler.

So do us all a favour and watch your language.

And I freakin' mean it.


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