Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 03.28.05
Stanstead, Quebec


The F-word and other lyrics

A handful of lower-calibre swear words are permitted in our house, and then only for comic effect. Any anger-induced cussin' is met with a "Hey hey hey, what's that?" from the nearest parental authority.

More often than not, though, the kids offer up family-hour versions, such as "I'm going to kick your donkey," or "the word that starts with 'sh' and ends in 'it.' "

Still, it's a long way from when the 's-word' in our house stood for 'stupid.'

Thankfully, the children seem to understand the power of profanity or at very least that there are some words that just don't sound right coming out of little mouths. Thus, these days you'll find the older siblings teaching Abby to say not "Oh, my God" but "Oh, my gosh!" It just . . . sounds better.

Not that we're entirely puritanical when it comes to swearing. After all, profanity is a form of expression. As someone who works with language, it seems unreasonable of me to censor words that can actually be pretty handy, such as when a driver cuts you off, or you hit your thumb with a hammer, or someone is being a real you-know-what. Sometimes a loud expletive makes you feel so much better.

Plus, profanity can be just plain fun.

When Kate was younger, we'd say "See you later, alligator" and she'd reply, "In a while, crocodile." One day, solely to upset her mother, I added, "In a bit, you piece of . . ." trailing off as Deb clucked her tongue and glared at me.

I thought I was quite clever until the next time we played this game and Kate chimed in with, "In a bit, you pizza." This is now part of our family farewell repertoire that only we truly understand.

Mostly, though, even Deb and I use toned-down substitutes, such as "fudge" and "shoot." Every now and then, if we find ourselves kid-free in the car, we'll shout a stream of R-rated obscenities. . . just because we can.

Back at home, we enforce a policy of passive vigilance. For instance, if the kids are watching a movie with a bit of swearing in it, I'll stick my head around the corner and say, "Hmmph, quite a bit of swearing." I don't turn off the movie, though. Just reminding them that it's inappropriate.

There is, of course, one forbidden word. You know the one. It's the word Jean Shepherd in 'A Christmas Story' describes as "the big one, the queen-mother of dirty word, the F-dash-dash-dash word."

So what's a free-thinking, rock-'n-roll-loving, occasionally foul-mouthed parent supposed to do when the kids start bringing home music that contains "the word" and other reasonable facsimiles? Censorship? Force them to listen to better music (i.e. my music)? Sing along so I really ruin it for them? Or just stick my head around the corner and say, "Hmmph, quite a bit of swearing"?

Again, usually it's the latter. After all, I'm as guilty as they are. A couple of my own songs contain the F-bomb, which I bleep out when the kids are around by loudly coughing in sync. Again, passive vigilance is valuable in avoiding concrete decisions.

This approach seems to be paying off. Or at least rubbing off.

James, who is most likely to listen to off-colour lyrics, will announce, "He said the f-word!" Or he'll come down from his room after listening to a new CD and announce, "They say the 's-h' word like ten times!" Or if I'm nearby when the offensive word blurts out, he'll just look at me and grin. It's like having the CRTC in your living room.

Works for me.

There's no point in trying to block these words out. They're everywhere, including on the schoolyard, where I've heard 10-year-olds use language that would make a teamster run home crying.

I grill my guys occasionally, asking if they talk that way with their friends. They say no, and I believe them.

Which is another passive parental policy: ignorance is bliss.