Swearing, Salinger & SpongeBob

So I never thought that I would ever praise SpongeBob for teaching my sons any great truth.  In fact, I cringe when SpongeBob is on at the gym’s daycare.  I am not a fan. I just don’t get SpongeBob, but then I haven’t really tried either. Many accuse me of being anti-television altogether and that isn’t exactly true. I appreciate television for what it is and think that sometimes it can be very educational for kids. And it is a nice diversion from time to time. Even though I’d like my kids to find other diversions for the most part, I do believe TV serves a purpose. And apparently so does SpongeBob.

The other morning G decided to test the parental waters in regards to swearing. It started with some “rhyming”…

“Shift, shaft…” he says. Steals a furtive glance at mommy, “…shit, shat”

I continue getting dressed  and bite the inside of my cheek to keep from smirking or in any way acknowledging in case he really doesn’t know what he is saying. C is sitting on my bed in wide-eyed wonder at his brother so somehow I doubt that is the case. G continues…

“Shit, shat,” he singsongs as he walks down the hall, but then he gives himself away with a giggle.

“So, you know that is a curse word,” I say following him into the hallway. He turns to face me oh-so-innocently.

“You mean, shit?”


“Yes.” He smiles at me and wonders what I’ll do next. Will I scream? Will he be punished? Will it be like the last time he admitted to knowing a curse word and mommy sighed with relief to hear that it was “Dummy”….

Now, I’ve got a lot of mixed thoughts about swearing. I once had a co-worker who claimed that swearing was for ignorant people who couldn’t think up better words to express how they were feeling. I sort of agree with this. I also had a co-worker who was certainly intelligent and educated but cursed “like a sailor” and I have to say that I think she did it in order to sound cool and be rebellious even though it sort of went against every fiber of her being. A grown woman trying to get some street cred by using the f word at work came across rather pathetic, actually. On the other hand, I consider myself well educated and fairly intelligent and I have definitely been known to swear and have found that sometimes a string of curses is an excellent stress reliever…I don’t know why. Maybe all the energy I use to think up better words on a day-to-day basis creates a certain amount of stress that letting some f-bombs fly out of frustration feels pretty good.  Dunno. Don’t care really. Cursing doesn’t offend me unless it is directed at me and I generally pride myself on being the type of person who doesn’t elicit curses from her fellow human beings. Although I’m sure there are some drivers out there who might feel differently.

Then I think about The Catcher in the Rye and Holden Caulfield. He gets so upset when he sees the graffiti on the wall at his sister’s school, thinking about how seeing those ugly words can only rob the kids of their innocence when someone tells them what it means and how it can paint the world as an awful and violent place. He wants to cover it up but realizes that you just can’t wipe out all the f-yous in the world. It is impossible. And old J.D. Salinger is right–on both points. When I think about swearing in that context, it does offend me. Why should my kids be exposed to such vulgarity and robbed of their innocence? On the other hand, this is reality and I can’t shield my kids from it forever. I also don’t want to give more power to those words than they deserve. Especially when scrawled on a wall or uttered in a moment of frustration. I guess you just have to teach kids the best alternatives and hope they reach for those words in the moment. And obviously modeling is the best form of teaching.

All this to say–freedom of expression is important.  And freedom of speech is our constitutional right (don’t even get me started on the irony of The Catcher in the Rye being BANNED in this country or those people who made a big deal over the Modern Family episode with the bleeped out swear from the little girl). If people want to curse that is their choice.  Do I want them teaching that to my kids? Not really. Do I want to teach that to my kids? No. What I want is to teach them creative ways to express themselves. But how? Enter SpongeBob.

So, I didn’t blow my stack about the swearing or anything, I just said, “We don’t curse in this house,” and went back to my room to finish getting ready. C who had been listening to this exchange with a lot of interest says:

“So, you mean that shit is a curse?”

“Yes. And now we’ve all said it. And now you know it is something we don’t say. I don’t use those words and neither should you.” At least not while you’re listening, I added to myself.

This seemed to resonate with C, who then asked:

“Why do people use those words?”

Hmmmm…how to explain to a six year old…

“I guess they can’t think of anything better to say. Sometimes people get frustrated or mad and they need to let it out so they swear. But we can think of more creative things to say, right?  Like…”

“Darnit Sauce!”

Yes. Exactly like that. SpongeBob’s expression is actually “Tartar sauce!”, but the McLaughlin boys long ago converted it to “Darnit sauce!” Creative, funny, and an appropriate exclamation for a six year old.  Thank you, SpongeBob. I couldn’t have said it better myself.


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