Tuesday, June 28, 2011

X- Rated Cursing and a Bedtime Story for the Sleep Deprived Parents. What is Acceptable?


 I submit this post in honor of a (belated) Fathers' Day and "X" week at ABC Wednesday. I hope I don't offend anyone as I offer this bedtime story by Adam Mansbach, read by Samuel Jackson. It was forwarded to me by my sleep-deprived cousins as they learn to juggle life with their second child and I now share it with you:

THIS IS NOT A CHILDREN'S BOOK.  IF you are having trouble with bedtime and getting your kids to sleep, please see my blog post: http://departingthetext.blogspot.com/2011/04/getting-them-to-sleep-bedtime-rituals.html

So, with a smirk on your face and the kids asleep.... let's talk X-rated mouths:  What is your take on cursing?

I was raised by conservative parents who would not stand for cursing.  (They threatened to wash my mouth out with soap if I cursed.  I was a good girl - for the most part). As a result, I tend not to curse but I must confess, there are times when a good well placed curse (with emphasis)  makes all the difference in the world! [Just ask my husband!]

What is your take on cursing?  Is it alright to curse in front of your child?  To your child?

An educator's perspective on cursing in front of kids: Don't do it (at least not regularly or intentionally - we all have our moments).  There are so many truly colorful onomatopoeic expletives that can be used in lieu of cursing that present wonderful intellectual and verbal challenges to the creative communicator.  I also think that aside from the well-deserved curse, using crass curse words too frequently cheapens our language.  That said, I do love the delicately placed colorful curses as they add depth and diversity to conversations (and often just feel good releasing).

Here are some alternative expletives:
  • persnickety
  • shoot
  • nuts 
  • whoopsadaisy
  • fiddlesticks
  • freaking
  • sugar
  • knucklehead
  • halfwit
  • dimwit
  • numbskull
  • lewd
  • warped
  • cavernous
  • tedious
In my opinion, however, Shakespeare was the master insult / curse-writer.  Below are two clips from Much Ado About Nothing which illustrate his craft at cursing.  Explore these clips (or the entire film/play) and the list of selected insults and curses below on your own or with your kids, and please add your favorites in the comments:

  • I would my horse had the speed of your tongue! (Much Ado About Nothing)
  • Thou art like a toad; ugly and venomous. (As You Like It)
  • Thou art a flesh-monger, a fool and a coward. (Measure for Measure)
  • A most notable coward, an infinite and endless liar, an hourly promise breaker, the owner of no one good quality. (All's Well That Ends Well)
  • Thy tongue outvenoms all the worms of the Nile (Cymbeline)
  • You scullion! You rampallian! You fustilarian!  I'll tickle your catastrophe! (Henry IV Part 2)
  • Go, prick thy face, and over-red thy fear, Thou lily-liver'd boy (Macbeth)
  • Thine face is not worth sunburning. (Henry V)
  • A foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.  What a piece of work is man! (Hamlet)
  • My two schoolfellows.  Whom I shall trust as I will adders fangs. (Hamlet)
  • Scurvy, old, filth, scurry lord (All's Well That Ends Well)
  • You are not worth another word, else I'd call you knave. (All's Well That Ends Well)
  •  I desire that we be better strangers. (As You Like It)
  • Beg that thou may have leave to hang theyself. (Merchant of Venice)
  • Four of his five wits went halting off, and now is the whole man governed with one. (Much Ado About Nothing)
  • This is a subtle whore, a closet lock and key of villainous secrets. (Othello)
  • Hang cur, hang, you whoreson, insolent noisemaker. (The Tempest)
  • Thou art a boil, a plague sore, an embossed carbuncle in my corrupted blood. (King Lear)
  • It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing (Macbeth)
  • milksops
  • braggarts
  • artless
  • bawdy
  • base-court
  • beetle-headed
  • beef-witted
  • boil-brained
  • clay-brained
  • barnacle
  • beslubbering
  • clapper-clawed
  • canker-blossom
  • craven
  • curish
  • errant
  • dankish
  • fobbing
  • frothy
  • earth-vexing
  • fen-sucked
  • folly-fallen
  • haggard
  • haughty 
  • lewd minx
  • loggerheaded
  • lout
  • maggot-pie
  • mewling
  • paunchy
  • ill-breeding
  • malt-worm
  • mammet
  • puny
  • puking
  • minnow
  • rutish
  • roguish
  • reeky
  • rank
  • pernicious
  • plume-plucked
  • pox-marked
  • surly
  • ratsbane
  • swag-bellied
  • scut
  • strumpet
  • timorous wretch
  • vassal
  • villainous
  • wart-necked
  • urchin-snouted
  • whey-faced
  • yeasty

This list is a mere sampling.  Explore the remainders on your own or with your child, friend, or nemesis. In the meantime, here is one more clip.

Please leave comments on how you handle cursing, cursing with kids, and cursing alternatives.   PLEASE  leave some of your favorite gems!


  1. You have some great alternatives words to cursing. I cursed so much before I was a mother that I was afraid if I didn't stop completely, the first word out of my daughter's mouth might be a curse word. It's funny because after all those years of not using profanities because of being a mom, I've never really cursed much sense except on rare occasions. Now when I use a profanity it's far more effective because it's obvious I'm seriously annoyed, LOL

  2. Interesting post as always, Meryl! Like you, there are times when a X word expresses better than any other just what I might be feeling. I didn't use them much around my children when they were growing up and they limit their cursing now that they are grown, to doing pretty much the same thing. Hope your week is off to a good start!

    ABC Team

  3. I don't curse in front of my daughter (except accidentally, usually after something has dropped on my foot.)
    On the other hand, I was not much for swearing. And whemn you DON'T normally swear, then you DO, it's SO much more effective.

    I actually addressed that here: S is for Swearing.

  4. Well I suppose I'm in the minority, but I feel that using alternate expletives is foolish. It is apparent that your intention is to hurl a curse of some sort on the person or circumstance that has upset you. If it is truly worthy of a curse word, use it. If not, hold your tongue.

  5. I decided to cut back when my then-two year old would ask me, in the car, after somebody cut me off, "What that @sshole do, Mommy?" and once, in the grocery store, "What the h#ll's going on here?"

    You would not have believed the number of bad clown drivers on the road, after that!

    Recently I read a study that indicated there was substantially better pain relief if one exclaimed words like $hit! when dropping a heavy object on one's foot, rather than Sugar! And I think Go the F##k to Sleep is hilarious - every parent has been there, SO exhausted and sleep deprived. The books brings a humorous relief and sense of camaraderie to parents who may think they are the only ones to have had dark thoughts in the wee hours.

    That said, you don't want your kids roaring out obscenities at Grandma's house or church, so if you don't want them to use them, you'd better not.

  6. Okay I laughed really hard listening to Samuel L. Jackson reading that book. :D

    My favorite explative for infront of little kids is Sugar Honey Iced Tea but "Freakin'" works well too.

  7. Love this post. First, even though I think Go the F*** to Sleep is not the most well-written tome in the world, it is funny, and Samuel L. Jackson's oral interpretation is priceless. Critics need to lighten up, but keep this volume away from any little darlings who already know how to read, but are not old enough to appreciate the humor.

    I'm not great about not swearing. I have tried. I continue to try. But at least I'm not as bad as one acquaintance, who finally gave up. She told her children: "Face it. We are a cursing family. That's not going to change, so our rule is that you can only curse in the house." That rule cracked me up, but I'm not sure it's enforceable.

    In my family of origin, I think I heard my mom say "dammit" one time, when she sprained her ankle. My dad swore occasionally. My brother and I are still loathe to swear in front of our parents. I have to say that I'm over "freakin'" (everyone gets that euphemism) and "suck", which is really gross. I love the Shakespearean alternatives, if only I could remember them.

    One of my favorite anti-swearing campaigns came from a mom who made her teenage children describe for her the literal meaning of each statement in question. "Is that really something you want to do to your sister?" she would ask. Basically, she embarrassed them into cleaner language.

    Just FYI, while I don't have the swearing thing fixed, I am a bedtime expert and rarely felt the need to say "Go the F*** to Sleep", even under my breath. Here's my plan for better bedtimes.

    Visiting from SheWrites. Thanks for the post.

  8. I am filthy-mouthed, through and through. But I'm a mother and a teacher, so I don't get to be that person for the majority of my day. When my husband and I are in the car alone, without kids or students, we sometimes feel so free, we'll shout out a few expletives. I'm not ashamed to be crass, or crude, or anything of the like. I don't prescribe to society's expectation that women behave like little tea cakes, prim, proper, and polite. I find women who are unafraid to speak what's on their minds invigorating.

    BUT - I don't swear in front of my kids or students. I don't use foul language in public places (except online, and people have a choice whether to be my audience or not). I don't appreciate people who swear for shock purposes only (there is a fine balance here, though, for some of the truly witty and humorous writers, entertainers, etc. use a lot of foul language, but in a way that works).

    And, Shakespeare? Dirty, dirty, dirty man, he was. My students just don't know what they're missing...

  9. Too funny!
    My hubby says that when I swear it makes him laugh becasue I say it so 'properly'.
    Jane x

  10. Thank you for the great list of Shakespearean curses, Meryl. My favorite is: "I desire that we be better strangers," though I'm not sure I'd have the guts to use it - so cutting! I think the British are masters of the well-worded curse, though I once got dirty looks from an older British couple for daring to say so. As for how I handle cursing:

    1) I don't curse around people I don't know well, as I don't want to be presumptuous

    2) Those friends and colleagues who despise cursing might occasionally hear me say, "God Bless America" or "Friggin''" when I boil over.

    3) I typically don't curse around children. However, when my little sister turned 14, I occasionally used the word "crap" around her. I regret that, as she now throws it around indiscriminately, which can make her seem crass. Sometimes curses are strong spices that are best used sparingly.

    4) My husband & close friends will attest that I still swear like I did when I worked in a newsroom, where swearing can be a stress survival tactic.

    5) My father says swearing is a refuge of people with small vocabularies. He may have a point, though I'm under the illusion that I have an extensive vocabulary. As a writer, I don't think in terms of "good" and "bad" words. In the same way a painter needs all the colors to create, even the murky ones, so a writer needs all the words. Any word can be good or bad, depending on context.

  11. You guys are writing really great comments and I appreciate it, thank you, and look forward to more. I particularly liked the advice not to curse in front of people you don't really know. Impressions are so easy to make and so hard to break!

  12. Must admit, I'm a curser through and through. I've tried to curb my enthusiasm, but so far I've been unsuccessful. I agree with Cara's dad that swearing might be perceived as a refuge of people who possess a crappy vocabulary...Oops, there I go again! Thanks for the fun post!

  13. I grew up in a conservative household as well. No cursing. Ever.

    Because of that, I still don't. Neither does my husband.

    Not that I don't like a well placed and worded insult mind you. The traditional curse words just never made it into my vocab.

  14. Hi , Meryl, I wasn't allowed to curse growing up. My mom was a very proper teacher-mom.By the time I was in college I cursed all the time. I still do -- and I curse in front of the kids -- but they know they have to be 18+ to be ready to curse. So far so good. I have trained myself not to curse while teaching, but at home, sometimes I just have to. I love this post, by the way. It's beautifully constructed and I love the Shakespeare quotes.

  15. One of the kids I work with frequently says, "Oh, mayonaise." I love it.
    This post is Anonymous. Google is driving me crazy; it won't let me post. Thelma Zirkelbach www.widowsphere.blogspot.com

  16. I am not an habitual curser, but when I do give in to frustration I am liable to say the same curse word over and over and over. It gives it some kind of vivid emphasis. Never in the presence of children.......and I am often startled at the kind of language I see on Facebook!

  17. This is a hard act to follow! But, I agree that Shakespeare was THE master of them all. Some of your offerings I know not-such as fen-sucked (and that sounds pretty wicked)!
    My son is about to turn 20. We made the distinction of what was appropriate public language and what wasn't. Or course, public schools tend to undermine this, but I think if the lessons are well engrained before they hit 10 years old, they do show wisdom in their selection of words.
    And, of course, the teenage years takes it toll on a parent by way of setting an example at home when they (the teen) pushes you beyond you human limits!

  18. No cursing in our household too.

    My WW links:
    Our Twins
    I Love You

  19. I don't curse because that's the way I was raised. I don't want my kids to curse either. However, I have no problems watching movies with bad language.

  20. I must admit to muttering the odd f... when doing tedious household chores and also shouting out obscenities sometimes when behind the wheel but not generally in conversation - except maybe the odd B..... here and there - my there's my dirty washing out x

  21. I remember actually having my mouth washed out with soap and water by my dad when I was very young, although for the life of me I ncan't remember what I said.

    My favourite memory of childish cursing was when my daughter was aged five. We were shopping in the supermarket when she asked me in a very loud voice: Dad, is flucking hell swearing?

    Although embarrassed, I didn't give her the soap and water treatment.

  22. Clever post - I've become a much more frequent (and better) curser with age. :) But I can avoid it when small children are present - I do wonder how much my children and grandchildren curtail THEIR language when they are around me. Guess it might work both ways.

  23. Interesting you call it cursing which would have a slightly different meaning here, we would say this was swearing. Usage I think very much depends how you were brought up, although I think today we have a much more relaxed attitude than in the past. Whatever its called I dislike people whose every other word is a swear one, very boring and not someone I would want to be around. Nothing wrong with the well placed swear word or phrase, it gets the pain or anger out of the way. Some of those Shakespearian ones would be wonderful to use, imaginative curing, that's what we need.

  24. eXcellent choice!

    Please come and find out what the Letter X is at my page. Have a lovely day.

  25. As you already had in caps that this was not a children's book, this publication and its contents is a non-issue. Just like the Simpsons' cartoon and other adult cartoons, where the content is more accessible to children, this book fits into the same category. I don't see the big deal at all.

  26. I am not much of a curse word user, tho my hubby did have the potty mouth, esp on a bad day at work. He blames it on the guys he worked with, as they used it all day long, hard working laborers. Now that our boys are gone he is better at home, hehe... I would not allow our boys to cuss, and esp hated the F bomb, as it flowed out of hubby's mouth so easily... even as adults they try not to say that word in front of me. but anyone that knows me & ever hears me use that word, knows that I am really mad about something for it to fly out of my mouth. I like a lot of your alternatives.

  27. Thanks so much for visiting my blog today. I hope you will become a frequent visitor. What an interesting article on expletives. Some good tips.

  28. I can't say I don't swear; I do at times. But not a lot. I had a deal with my daughters while they were growing up. It would be okay for them to use curse words as soon as they heard me use them. I made it almost through high school. :-)

    And why use curse words, when you can put someone in their place (like Shakespeare) with some well-placed phrases that can get across the same point. My favorite example is (the late) Dixie Carter's character, Julia Sugarbaker, from the 80s show, Designing Women. I still marvel at her delivery! Check it out at: http://bit.ly/ilh2ki

    That said, I thoroughly enjoyed watching The King's Speech...expletives and all!

  29. That is the funniest book I've ever "read." I love cursing, but used in a humorous way. I do it a lot on my blog, but not for shock value, but because it is the right word for the "moment." I do think there's a time and a place for cursing. School - not okay. Church - NOT okay. Work - not okay. I use the F word quite liberally, but the first time my boss said the F word to me in conversation I was shocked and thought it was incredibly inappropriate. Definitely not okay to curse at your children and try your best not to curse in front of them. And no cursing at people in anger!!

  30. I think it's normal for parents to teach the kids not to swear but as one grows old, swearing becomes a choice. Though sometimes it just comes out of the mouth without even thinking about it. I believe there are also good alternatives to swearing.

  31. I used not to swear at all but over the many years of being married to my lovely husband, whose use of swear words frequently makes me laugh, I admit I do now. I don't think my children - all adults now - like it very much but I know they swear sometimes too. There are some words I will never use and one very commonly used one, not usually thought of as a swear word that I deplore; it rhymes with cart and dart and tart.

  32. lol, this made me laugh.....
    i do curse... and i hate it..
    but, i am so much better now that i am a mom than when i was a bartender/bar manager!

  33. I fallow you from my site. Polyhoobymommy.com.. I love this post! We were never encouraged to course, but we weren't threatened either. My father was a solider, so it was kinda natural for him. I actually never picked up the habit. I tend to do it, if I am trying to make a point or to be extra funny. But I do, "shit" & "dammit" a lot. It's usually what comes out of my mouth when something goes wrong... What do I call me kids... turds, monkeys, banshies, wild ones, and of course banana head.

  34. LOl! I curse sometimes but not intentionally.

  35. Hate the book, personally, but loving your list!!

  36. I was raised not to curse and do not engage around my kids because I don't want them thinking it is acceptable behavior. I try really hard not to curse other people, even with substitutes, for the same reason. I am not totally sure why some words are given so much more weight when, as you say, some of the best insults have no curse words at all.

  37. I'm not keen on the book but that's just me and my old-fashioned ways I suspect. I make every effort not to swear when my grandchildren are within earshot, and when my own children were growing up, I never swore around them. Not that they didn't know the words, certainly telly and other children at school taught them all they needed to know in that regard, but I didn't want to give the impression that it was acceptable and/or the norm. But as I said, I'm an old fart with rusty knees and a cranky disposition. LOL!

    My letter "X" poem is at:

  38. GREAT POST! I try not to swear in front of my kids. I always remember my mum saying, 'Ohhhh Bbbbbuckets of hens feathers", when she hurt herself or was frustrated! I guess it's good to have an alternative!
    Kids will learn to swear from friends, tv, songs etc; but I think it's important to learn that they are words not to be used lightly!


  39. i cant say i've ever thought so much about cursing! though i have thought quite a bit about the go the f*ck to sleep book, and have decided even if it makes me humorless, overall, i am against it. too many kids the recipient of too much violence, language, and otherwise....

  40. My parents never cussed. I never cussed. It was never a threat, it just never happened. My husband was raised the same. It is just not something we do. Our boys are 14,16,170 they have never used that sort of language either- I have never threatened them or had to talk to them- it just never happened. Though they have started using "that sucks" recently. I just told them I don't like hearing it so not to use that around me. I also have no need for alternatives. Though some of those do seem funny.