The image of soap in a child’s mouth is not just a humorous scene in a 24-hour Christmas movie marathon. It is a vivid memory of my mother’s solution to saying bad words. Interestingly, the words that left a taste of Ivory in my mouth were not the usual f-bombs or poop-synomyns. In fact, my mother loves to tell the story about baby Amy, snuggled into a stroller shopping in Lord and Taylor with my grandmother. My mother remembers running into a woman who was friends with my grandmother. At the prompting, “What does Gigi (my nickname for my grandmother) say?” I loudly replied, “Ahhhh…sh**!” Needless to say, swearing was not exactly forbidden; context was the exception to rules that bore punishment. My mouth was only forced to be 99.44% pure when I said the words “shut up” or “sucker”.
We have an inexplicable fascination with dirty words. The first parlor trick you perform when you learn any new language is how to swear. (I can fluently swear in Spanish, French, Romanian, and American Sign Language.) My 8th grade students have permission to Shakespearean insults throughout the unit we study Romeo and Juliet. Some psychologists have even studied the positive effects of swearing.
The Top 3 Worst Swear Words
Before you guess which swear words are the most common or the most effective, consider which swear words are the most damaging to both children and adults.
- “Shut Up”: I cannot tell you how much it irks me that my mother got this one right. This phrase earned students 10 push-ups in my room, a legacy of our beloved Army music teacher. Healthy self-esteem and self-respect begin with the ability to express your individuality. Words, and the opinions that they hold, are powerful. In an article written to guide parents about building a respectful relationship with teens and tweens, developmental psychologist Marilyn Price-Mitchell Ph.D explains 11 categories of words that help grow a healthy relationship during the years your child challenges you the most. Because we all continue to grow up as we grow old, these lessons are invaluable at all stages of life.
- “Stupid”: That’s another 10 push-ups. Limiting speech with the first bad word is bad; judging that speech with this one is worse. “Stupid” is the gateway insult for verbal and emotional abuse. I hear this word more often in conversations amongst adults than I do with children. In fact, researchers have found that 75% of workers have been bullied with the use of repeated demeaning or insulting words a hallmark of the epidemic.
- “Should/Shouldn’t”: Shame, shame, shame. Albert Ellis made this word, and its deletion from everyone’s vocabulary, the premise of his Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). Judgment of self and others is the consequence of saying “should”. For example, your sweet baby boy asks for a lollipop (filled with powerful antioxidants – Mom wins) after he has already had his dinner, juice, and a cookie. You ask yourself, “Should I let him have (what he thinks is) another treat.” Your judgmental self is what answers, “I don’t want him to have a sweet tooth” or “I don’t want him to always get what he wants” or a litany of other emotional reactions to one behavior, a request for a lollipop. The moral here is to ACCEPT the action/behavior without judging it.
Spark Note Summary
We all grew up singing about sticks and stones doing more harm than words. Then, we all became grown ups who knew that words do more harm than any sticks or stones. Cleaning up your language just might clean up your relationships, at least 99.44% of them…