Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Why I love my daughters: Reason #890,325

Two bits before I discuss the latest reason to love the girls beyond all reason. First, I already did, so this is nothing new.

Second, I should explain a small parenting quirk of mine that comes from being a linguist. It has to do with the handling of the learning of swear words by small ones. Many many years ago (and really, far too early in her career as a speaking human being), the older small one, being about three years old, acquired the f-word from a child at daycare (said child had an older brother, and was therefore quite precocious). I learned this while driving home one day, when, in a contemplative tone of voice, and clearly trying the whole thing on for size, T said, very clearly, "f**k" (avoidance of spammers here, rather than any problem with writing this particular word). Then there was silence.

It was clear from that silence that she knew that something was supposed to happen at this juncture in the conversation. Probably something fairly spectacular; after all, why go to the trouble of learning such a wonderful new word if it doesn't serve as some kind of conversational trigger? Of course, the linguist in me was merrily theorizing: from whom had she acquired it, what did she think it meant, was its meaning shifting in some interesting way from the prototypical meaning of the word (that is, "sex") to something more like "word which gets a reaction", what did she expect me to do now, and (finally, I know you were waiting for this) what *should* I do now? Mind you, my attitude towards the whole thing was the rather unorthodox, well, it's a great word that's very useful in a number of contexts, and frankly, it's a miracle she hasn't heard me say it before now, but I'd really rather she didn't say it in front of, for example, her teachers or grandparents. So I took the linguistic approach.

I said, "Boodle" (she's the boodle, her sister's the ick -- which is a diminutive suffix in some languages, rather than an expression of disgust; what do you want from me?), I said, "Here's the deal" (the girls told me lately that this is the phrase that says to them that things are getting serious; I had no idea), I said, "That is a great word. It's very useful sometimes to have a word like that in your vocabulary. But here's the thing. It's really a word that's for adults to use, rather than children. People don't expect children to say it, even if you're very upset. So, let's say you can use it in front of mommy if you want, but it's probably better not to upset people by using it in front of anyone else."

Further silence. Then, "OK". And that was all. She tried it again in the car a day or two later (cars being wonderfully safe places for trying things like that, since she was sitting in the back and couldn't see my face), and that was all. I was pretty sure the lesson had taken when, several months later after nearly getting hit by someone running a stop sign (note the car context again), I said, "S**T!!". And then I said, "Oh, s**t, sweetie" (this is a recursive sort of thing that's hard to stop), "I'm sorry". And she said (bless her), "That's OK, mama, it's a grown up word and you're a grown up. I'll say shoot instead." Heh.

So, this is all a long lead-in which will help to explain why we were having the following conversation in the first place. We were in the car (!!), and I got cut off by an idiot, whom I duly called an idiot. Older daughter tells me that she's not particularly fond of that word, since it seems rather mean. I pointed out that I wasn't so much being mean as describing the person factually, but that I could respect her stand on the matter, and did she have any alternative suggestions, because frankly, I needed something to call this person. She wasn't sure, so I suggested "newt brain" (I thought syphilitic newt brain might lead the conversation in directions I wasn't ready for). Both girls thought that was still a bit harsh (I'm looking forward to rehashing this conversation when they're 16), and suggested bird brain instead. I told them that it wasn't really strong enough to describe someone this lacking in sense, and older daughter thoughtfully said that there was something she'd read in one of her books that might work. I told her to lay it on us. She said it was "thrice-accursed son of a b-word" and added, "but I'm pretty sure I'm not supposed to say the b-word" (ah, how the early lessons of youth do stick). I agreed with her that no, the b-word was on the grown-up word list and probably not so good (mental note: check older daughter's books more carefully next time). Younger daughter suggested "thrice-accursed bird brain" as a useful alternative. We thought about that for a moment, and then I said, "How about thrice-accursed newt-brain", which received a resounding YES from the back seat. So, this is our new term for bad drivers.

I still think thrice-accursed son of a syphilitic newt-brain has a nicer ring to it. But that's another conversation.

6 comments:

Ryan said...

This reminds me of a curse my high-society-mother-with-a-great-sense-of-humor used to love to use: "May the fleas of a thousand camels infest your armpits!!" I don't know where she got it from or how many fleas there actually ARE on a camel, but she trotted it out frequently.

Enjoyed your story!

Anne said...

Sad to say, BOTH of my girls have cute stories associated with uses of the f-word; being a literature type, my interest is in the evolving narrative rather than what the word has come to mean! Although ... well, when life has calmed down a bit I'll make time to share the tales with you! R had a horrible reaction to his allergy meds and we've had a tough few days of it.

Marianne said...

Exactly! I'm in a puddle of giggles, nodding my head sagely, I did indeed 'teach' my children when/where it would be appropriate to curse (they could be quite creative!)...then along came the grandchildren....
My daughter believes I should be in charge of teaching 'the rules' to her nephew and niece along with the sacred ritual of sucking chilled chocolate syrup out of the can.... and I do my part when I have them but there's not so much the allowance for them using them in front of even a 'safe' person.
I don't think I have the 'wiggle' room to undermine their mom and dad's rule...sigh....
Great post :^)

Carrie K said...

And it's slightly more factual. Great story though too! Cute girls.

Tracy said...

This story cracks me up! It reminds me of a time when my eldest son first learned the f-word (around age 3). I'd had several very patient conversations with him, explaining how there were some words that only grown-ups should use, and he seemed to understand completely.

At this same time, I was also introducing him to gardening. I'd bought a few small statues to make the garden more kid-friendly, including a frog with a crown on his head, which we called the Frog-King. My son was particularly taken with the frog-king the first time he saw it. He was so excited that the next day, he just had to tell his daycare provider about it. His pronunciation, however, wasn't so good, so when he said excitedly, "I saw Mama's frog-king!" it sounded like "I saw Mama f**king!"

A profound moment of silence, a lifted eyebrow, and then howls of laughter followed that one!

anne said...

i love that story! but i dare you to say that phrase fast (enough) the next time someone cuts you off . . .