My husband and I have been disagreeing lately over whether or not our girls should be permitted to use the word “heck”. While hubby concedes that it’s not actually a swear word, he feels it’s still inappropriate and not “ladylike” enough for our six and four year olds.

When the word came up in a read-aloud I was doing at school, I asked the students if they were allowed to use “heck”, and most said yes. (You can always count on Roald Dahl titles to provide teachable moments. “While this author thinks it’s funny to use the word fat/stupid/heck, we know that it’s not appopriate for us to do so, right? Right.”)

What counts as swearing? How picky should we be? Maggie has brought home “What the heck?” and “Holy crap!” since she began kindergarten last month. I allow the former, but not the latter.

There are also the “I-didn’t-really-say-it” partial expressions that children at school love to employ, like “Holy -!” and “Son of a -!”. I know one student who is partial to saying (word for word, as he censors himself) “What the BEEP?”

This of course is different from innocent fouls, like when my learning-to-talk nephew received a new watch, and wasn’t able to pronounce things quite perfectly when encouraging others to look at his clock. Though I don’t think his parents can plead innocence regarding the time he commented, as he noticed a car turning but didn’t understand it had an advanced green, “Look at this stupid bastard turning left on a red!” (He was four.)

I encourage the kids to use proper names for parts of the anatomy, but I sometimes turn a deaf ear when they are playing together and using silly expressions like “poopy bum”. Kids have to have some fun,  especially if I can pretend I didn’t even hear them. However, I certainly don’t want them to refer to anyone’s “poopy bum” when greeting Monsignor Mike on Sundays. A lot has to do with the context.

To date (and this is subject to change) I have yet to hear the f-word from either girl (let me know if you have!), and I would wager that they have never heard it in our home. (I’m not saying I’ve never SAID it, just that they’ve never HEARD it.) That seems like the worst one to me, but really I suppose it’s the Lord’s-name-in-vain ones that we should be most concerned about.

That said, I am often heard exclaiming (in adult company) “Oh my God!” about matters that certainly aren’t worthwhile of the Lord’s consideration, and in those cases I don’t feel that I’m “swearing”. However, I wouldn’t allow my daughters or students to use that expression.

What’s allowable in your house? Do you have to watch what you say in front of the kids, or do you always keep your language clean? Are there different rules for different circumstances? I’d love to know what you think!

3 comments on “What Counts As Swearing?”

  1. We were successful in quelling the naughty talk at our house until our boys started to talk! Suddenly it was poop, fart and bum all over the place. I went through many distraught conversations seeking any and all advice from other parents. Finally one of them asked me "what does your husband do if he farts." Laughs, of course! Okay, enough said- I was fighting a losing battle! Now we have dart flying freely around the house and I save my punishments for the bigger words. My list is the same as yours. I do stop my eight year old from saying "oh my God" and ask her to replace it with "goodness." Our boys were taught a song in school using the word "heck" so I had to let that one go, but did remind them that I didn't love the choice of word.
    Lately we have a lot of name calling and I struggle with trying to quell the hurtful words with choosing my battles: they all seem to do the name calling, and no one seems to get particularly upset about the names…other than I do. I remind my kids that it makes me angry when someone says or does something mean to one of my children, even if it is another of my children. And ask them to stop. Sometimes it works, and sometimes I just need to move on with a distraction!
    I will tell you it will be a cold day in he&& when any of my children starts with the really bad words in my presence! Even if they may have heard the occasional slip out of Mama's mouth, they know better than to try!

  2. I don't really mind "heck" or "Oh my god" but what really gets me is when the kids call something (or heaven forbid, someone) "stupid." That is not acceptable in any circumstance.

    Speaking of funny slips of language. My little girl was shouting at the top of her lungs: "I love to get high!" Of course she was referring to the fact that she loves to climb up to the highest part of the park structure… but she still got some strange looks hehehehe.

  3. This post made me laugh out loud!
    I recall when my son was two and we were driving behind another car he said from his carseat in the back "Come on old lady, get moving."

    I also don't like swearing but am probably to blame for your daughter saying "heck" as I find it often slips out of my mouth and gets repeated by my boys.

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