Thursday, August 8, 2013

Column: I Swear (Actually, I don't)

By Stephen Lautens

Calgary Sun - July 19, 2013

There’s a contest going on in my house.
On the kitchen counter there are two jars – one for my wife and one for my eleven year old son. They are the proverbial swear jars.
There’s a couple of things you need to know. First, you’ll notice that I don’t have a jar. That’s for the simple reason that I don’t swear much. I know all the words, and if push comes to shove I can put them together in creative combinations, but they don’t automatically spring from my lips in moments of distress.
The other thing you need to know is that in the case of my son, there are very few actual swears. This is more of a preventative measure to keep him from introducing more colourful language into his discussions, so he drops a nickel in the jar for what we call “near swears”.
The problem with near swears is that they are open to debate, and he is perfectly happy to spend twenty minutes arguing whether any particular word or body part should be on the list. I suppose I should be pleased that he’s learning the nuances of the infinitely expressive English language.
Oddly, half of the time he’s arguing in favour of something he said qualifying as a swear, even when it clearly isn’t.
“But I meant it as a swear,” he’ll plead. Then I have to explain to him that if intentions were illegal, we’d all be in jail.
Why does he want to have innocent words qualify as swears? This is where the whole swear jar thing seems to break down.
Instead of a swear jar being a deterrent to inappropriate language, my son has seen filling the jar with nickels as a challenge. More than that, with one for him and one for my wife, he sees it as a competition to see who can fill theirs first.
I’ve explained that’s not the idea of a swear jar, and that the first to fill theirs does not get a prize. They don’t even get to keep the money, because I think my wife promised that the cash collected will go to a home for non-swearing orphans or something.
And since I have a vested interest in remaining married, I won’t comment on my wife’s occasional resorting to salty language when in extremis. After all, she got through 37 hours of labour when our son was born without a curse touching her lips. As a woman of honour, there will be times however when she comes back from driving to the grocery store and silently drops a few nickels in her jar.
I clearly remember the first time I heard my mother swear. I was about twenty years old. She touched a baking dish in the oven with her bare hand and dropped it. Oddly, the burn didn’t cause the swear – it was looking at the resulting dinner all over the kitchen floor. That’s when she calmly uttered a single curse. After a second or two of silence, we both burst out laughing.
My father didn’t swear either. When he had to use a forbidden word when telling a story he always spelled it out.
The problem is casual cursing has crept into our day to day lives, and in spite of all the parental hovering kids will be exposed to it at younger and younger ages.
For now, I’m happy to charge for the near swears, although I’m still not sure he gets it.
“Dad, can I borrow some nickels? I’m going to play some video games.”
© Stephen Lautens