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
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
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
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
So do us all a favour and watch your language.
And I freakin' mean it.