I understand that it is a moral abomination to have sweary children, but at the same time almost nothing makes me laugh more.by Sam Leith / May 22, 2014 / Leave a comment
“Children can swear precisely because they don’t yet have any sense of the obscene.” © Mindaugas Danys
“Oh,” said my four-year-old daughter, contemplating the water from her knocked-over glass spreading across the kitchen table. “Oh bladdy hell.”
My wife looked at me. I looked at the floor.
“BLADDY hell,” repeated Marlene with more emphasis and a world-weary shrug.
Alice’s eyebrow went up. “She didn’t learn that from me,” she said.
“Well she didn’t learn it from me, either,” I huffed. “If she was copying me she would have said ‘****ing ****ing ****ing ****’!”
“Not in front of the children!” Alice exclaimed, which was a fair point in the circumstances. And her other point was fair, too, if I’m honest. Whatever I might say, Marlene undoubtedly had picked up “bloody hell” from me, because I’m the only person in the house who uses that locution. When I’m not swearing like Viz magazine, I’m swearing like a character in an Alice Thomas Ellis novel.
It is, to be honest, something of a miracle that “bloody hell” is all she has so far picked up. I am already dreading the summons to primary school to have a solemn and awkward discussion with a schoolteacher 15 years younger than me about my daughter’s “inappropriate”—that’s the epithet that will be used—use of language. So I try.
My own parents were, if I recall, pretty good about not swearing all that much in front of us. They must have been, because otherwise I would not recall with such unmixed pleasure the expression on my mother’s face when—thinking herself alone in her study and having just dropped a full cup of coffee on the carpet—she shouted “Shit a fucking brick!” only to see the eight-year-old me emerge from under her desk.
Even in my first year at university, I confess to blenching a little whenever I heard anyone drop the C-bomb. But we live, these days, in a swearier age. That unpalatable monosyllable is everywhere—and it caused only a mild-to-mid level moral panic when, in Kick-Ass, the screenwriter Jane Goldman put it into the mouth of a 12-year-old girl.
And yet and yet. I’m a little bit torn on the subject of children and swearing. Many people are appalled by the sound of profanities issuing from the rosebud lips of the undertens. I understand that it is…