Swear Word Etiquette: Teaching by Example

By Erin MacNair

The walk home from school offers rare insights into my son’s world, especially if his friends are around.

“My mom swears in the car. That’s when I learn all the words I’m not supposed to say,” his buddy blurts out.

 I laugh. “Tell her she’s not alone.”

He continues, “I know the S word and the F word.” 

“Do you now?” I ask.  “And you? “ I turn to my son. His face goes red. I don’t know if I knew these things at six, but I probably did.  (Turns out, the S word is stupid.) 

Another friend’s son was in our car a few days later and said, “You must never ever say the M word.”

 I agree.  “Yes, never. Wait, what is the M word?” My mind travels to a heavy-metal swear involving the word Mother.

He shifts uncomfortably.

“Whisper it,” I say.

“Middle… finger,” he whispers back. I smile and agree, yes, we shouldn’t say that word.  There are plenty of other words we can use instead.

One of these was a creation of my father’s. All dads occasionally have moments of sheer brilliance, and my dad’s great invention was a completely fake swear word. When used in context, it could easily replace an S or an F. There were many occasions to use this word, especially during any kind of construction. If he pounded his finger with a hammer, missing his target, out popped the word. The heat would rise from his neck to his face and he’d shout: “Succkkaamambotchi!”

My brother and I would give each other a look that said, ooooooooooh, serious.

We learn by example, and my dad knew this. We must have looked ridiculous, trying to emulate him and his influential swear, trying it out under our breath like adults after an argument. But neither one of us was ever sent to the principal’s office for saying succkkaamambotchi. Since we didn’t know how it was spelled, we never wrote it on the side of our math book.  And as it was only used in a heated moment, it was said with such conviction that none of our friends ever questioned its meaning.

I have not been as savvy as my father. I did a good job for a very long time, not dropping F bombs or blue-laden language in the presence of my kids. But cut me off in traffic? A whole other person takes over – a sailor, perhaps. During these moments, I cannot contain the words I normally catch before they fall out of my face.

 “Jesus Christ!” I yell, followed by an F or an S.

This was the worst swear possible in my childhood (Catholic) home.  My brother and I came as close as we could, yelling, “Judas Priest!” any chance we could. My mom would sigh in exasperation, her hands tied. Soon, my own kids will be trying it out, seeing what words they can and can’t get away with. Until then, I need to invent my own swear, one I can say with true conviction in the car.

Erin MacNair is a Vancouver writer and blogger. She will be reading from the new anthology "Hidden Lives," a collection of stories on mental illness and its impact on families, on Nov. 8th (7 p.m.) at the Cellar Jazz Club in Kitsilano.

6 Responses to “Swear Word Etiquette: Teaching by Example”

  1. Tannis says:

    Love this! Wish I was as saavy as your dad too! Why does driving bring out our potty mouths?!

  2. Anne Marie says:

    Sukkammmaaaabotchi!  Great story! xx

  3. Julikay2u says:

    Love the article!
    *grin*  I do the same thing!  My favorites are "aw, crumbs!" and "shhhhh…aboigan" (when I start to say another "Sh" word and catch myself), though I have quite a few. 
    We've also had frank conversations with our kids since they were quite young.  Our kids know what swear words are ("stupid" is a swear word at our house too!) and that they're not to say them (though they love saying "aw, crumbs!") becuase they have not yet reached an age where they understand where it is "okay" to swear and where it is absolutely unacceptable to use real swear words.
    The big thing I try to get across to my kids is that it's not the actual words, it's the release of stress we get by saying these forbidden syllables and there are other ways to get that release without getting in trouble!

  4. Kim says:

    Love this, and I can so relate to swearing at other drivers. I wish I didn't, especially when the kids are in the car, however anything else just wouldn't be quite as satisfying. ;)  I too wish I was as creative as your Dad was in coming up with a suitable replacement.  Love his 'swear' word!

  5. Naomi says:

    Ah, laughing out loud over your dad's swear word! Our family's no-no is "bored," as in "I'm bored, mom." Excellent piece, Erin!

  6. erin says:

    I'm going to admit right now, dropped an F bomb in the kitchen after a day of insanity. Then I had to apologize to the kids, give myself a time out, and explain that yes, it is the release of the frustration that makes the word forceful and scary. Sigh. I'm still trying.

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