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    Why You Should Teach Four -Letter Words to a Kid

    One of the pleasures of adulthood is the opportunity to shock our juniors. I found myself with an especially good opportunity years ago, when my daughter, Dorothy Jr., was five. My wife and kids had joined me for dinner at Dartmouth College’s Moosilauke Ravine Lodge, a giant log cabin where incoming freshmen were given a feast. Dorothy Jr. sat next to me on a long bench, and a freshman sat on her other side. The boy looked really hungry, and for good reason: he had spent two nights camping in the woods and eating badly cooked food as part of his college orientation. Starvation must have made him clumsy or greedy; when he tried to raise a large drumstick of barbecued chicken to his mouth the thing slipped from his hand and dropped onto his lap. Exclaiming the F-word, he picked the chicken off his sauce-covered pants and then glanced guiltily over at Dorothy Jr. My little blond, pigtailed girl was watching his face with interest.

    “Oh,” the boy said to me. “Sorry.”

    “That’s all right,” I said. “Dorothy, explain to the gentleman what you know about that word.”

    “It was originally a term that meant plowing,” Dorothy Jr. said.

    “Oh.” He held his chicken uncertainly.

    “I know a lot of words,” she explained. “Would you like to hear about some others?” She listed several more four-letter words and offered to give the etymology of each one.

    By now most of the table was staring at Dorothy Jr. The freshman looked across her at me. “Dude!” he laughed nervously.

    Even better than shocking our juniors is using our own children to shock our juniors. “She’s interested in words,” I shrugged. “All kinds.”

    I didn’t explain that Dorothy Jr.’s erudition was part of an experiment of mine to see whether knowledge of taboo words could erase their black magic and make them merely enjoyable. If my kids learned the story of individual “foul” words, would they seem so foul when it came time to use them? I had assured my skeptical wife that the words would probably lose their charm; without magic, why cuss? It’s the taboo that makes blue language work. But my secret hope was that my kids would grow up into imaginative employers of four-letter words.

    And boy, did they. Not to brag or anything, but at twenty-six my daughter talks like a sailor—a very articulate sailor. I love that she appreciates “bad” words for what they can do to add spice or shock or express rage. Oh, she can be offended; she hates four-letter words when they’re used for no real purpose, or when they’re hurled at people simply to upset them. I like to think that she speaks a lighter shade of blue. 

    Want your kid to love language? Teach her to love all of it, including the juicy parts.

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    Reader Comments (7)

    Now this reminds me of English language lesson by the late George Carlin...
    May 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterContent
    "to see whether knowledge of taboo words could erase their black magic and make them merely enjoyable"

    "Four-letter words" (metonymy?) are taboo because words have power, and some words are more powerful than others. (You of all people should know this!) For the same reason, hunters (as everyone should) teach their kids the right and wrong ways to use guns, with perhaps the most important lesson being that in almost every situation you will encounter, guns are the wrong tool. But for those few situations where a gun is required, almost nothing else will work as well. Encouraging appropriate use is not the same thing as encouraging casual use or overuse.

    "she hates four-letter words when they’re used for no real purpose"

    I think she learned the right lesson, but I don't think it was the lesson you taught her?

    In related news, swearing increases pain tolerance, but not if it has been overused:
    May 17, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterDoug
    Doug, if you demystify certain curse words, it has sort of the same effect as innoculating a person from disease- once you've been exposed to them enough, they cease to give that frisson of horror. Your children are also less likely to use those words in class, just to see their teacher's expression.

    On the other hand, I wound up cultivating an entire set of curses that won't get me in trouble when I use them at the bedside- "God's Teeth!" is an excellent one, or, if I'm feeling British, "bloody hell" conveys all the irritation I need, without saying anything that (in THIS country at least) would get me censored. Instead of a gun, it's like using a taser- gets the job done, less paperwork.
    May 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFiglet
    "God's teeth"? Never heard that one before....
    May 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterContent
    I may well have taught her all the lessons for the wrong reasons, Doug! But, either through nature or nurture, both our children grew to be lovers of wit. And impressive bearers of pain.
    May 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFigaro
    Interesting thoughts in the post and comments.

    Sometimes those words offend people and they immediately turn off the rest of your message. Know your audience and don't use language that stops them from listening.

    Donald Trump recently dropped the "F Bomb" a number of times during a speech in LasVegas. This was before he dropped out of the race for president. I doubt of those words would have gained him votes.

    Thanks for the Post
    May 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFred E. Miller
    It does not follow that because we do not subsidize smoking, we should not regulate unhealthy activities. Costs and savings are not the only variable. The fact that obesity creates costs is merely an additional reason to regulate it, not the only one. The main reason is its danger to an individual. djwmzi djwmzi - <a href="http://www.radiisuprashoes.com">supra shoes</a>.
    October 30, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterhvmryd hvmryd

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