Episode One is finally here! Full transcript below - but here's the helpful notes and links you might find interesting.
Swearing is Good for You by Emma Byrne. This is the book I got most of my information on the history and etymology of cursing for this podcast. An excellent read. And the audio book is definitely worth a listen.
Our sponsors this week are Cannasmack. Hemp-oil infused beauty and skincare products. I'm an actual user of their products and would be happy to answer any questions. Enter promo code momma cusses for 10% off your order.
Our intro, ad break, and outro music is Stuck on You by The Fox Sisters.
Intro Music: Surf Rock
Hello! I’m Gwenna Laithland, and this is The Momma Cusses Podcast – the podcast dedicated to all the cussable moments in parenting.
Disclaimer: The Momma Cusses Podcast may have curse words, profanity, or adult topics. Okay, it will definitely have those things. If you have sensitive littles listening with you, now might be the time to pop on those headphones or go hide in the bathroom with your Grown-Up Juice.
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Alright, let’s get this shit going.
I once made a joke on a TikTok that my tribe consisted of mom’s who can’t dance, sneak liquor into their coffee, and whose children’s first words were likely to be cuss words. It was a joke. Lots of people found it funny. I know I did. My eldest’s first word was juice. But because karma is a bitch and the universe has a really fucked up sense of humor, my joke became my reality.
I’m sitting at the table with my twin 18-month-olds, and we’re just having lunch. My son, who is not the picky one, was being particularly stubborn about eating the butter beans I’d served with the chicken nuggets. Now at this point, neither of my kids were really talking. They had a few words and mimicked us all day long, but they were just being slow about the whole intelligible communication thing.
I looked at my son and asked, “What’s with you today? Normally you eat this shit up.” He threw more beans on the floor in response. My daughter, however, 2 minutes younger and thirty years smarter than I give her credit for, looked up with her saucer-sized blue eyes and said, clear as day, “Shit.” I stared. She repeated it. Shit. Shit. Shit.
Naturally, my eldest heard her sister cursing like a broken record, and encouraged the whole thing. It feels somehow wrong to hear a barely verbal toddler chanting shit. So my teenager thought it was riotously funny. I think technically the littlest’s first word was eat. Followed by please. And then…shit. Well, fuck.
Here’s the thing, I have no qualms about cursing. I mean, obviously. The podcast is called Momma Cusses. But I wanted to take this episode to look at cursing, why we curse, when we censor our words, and how we raise kids to respect language and its power. I’m going to teach my kids to say shit. Here’s why.
We know words have power. And, for a whole bunch of reasons, some words have more power than others. Crap rarely holds as much strength and imagery as shit. They mean the same thing, but one feels so much bigger. Worse, maybe. The word crap is totally acceptable to 99% of the English speaking population. But shit is very taboo. This gives it even MORE power. It is almost like speaking a forbidden tongue to curse, especially around kids. My own mother was horrified when I recanted my youngest shitty tirade at the lunch table. Generally speaking, we’ve decided that crap is acceptable, and shit is a no-no word.
Curse words are often relegated to grown-up words. And yet, almost every adult has a story of learning to curse in the dark corners of elementary playgrounds or behind the gym of the middle school. Cursing, as a child or pre-teen, feels rebellious because the words are taboo.
Many times breaking a taboo is seen as deviant or dangerous.
Think about that for a second. As a species, we’ve decided that cuss words, particular arrangements of sounds that fall out of our face holes are deviant or dangerous.
Why is that? It has a lot to do with where cussing comes from. Cursing, at its earliest, was exactly that, a curse. Yeah, the ill wish, hex-bringing, that lady has a wart and killed my cow kind of curse. The fear surrounding the “bad words” was wrapped up in the fear of witchcraft and evil-doing. No one wanted to be damned to hell. And worse, no one wanted to be accused to damning someone else.
Another mark against swears comes here. It wasn’t terribly long ago that the widely held belief was that cursing was not only the sign of a weak mind, but it was actually bad for us. Since most cursing is typically done in anger, frustration, or other negative emotion, a person who cussed often must be a very negative or stressed human.
There was a study done by a dude named Richard Stephens out of Keele University in the UK. The study began as an examination as to why humans do things we know are bad for us. And the prevailing thought was that cursing was, in fact, bad.
He had a group of 67 students place their hands in buckets of ice water and keep them in there as long as they could stand it. And they got to do that twice. In one of the tests, students were allowed to swear while in the other was no cussing allowed. Stephens had initially hypothesized that if swearing was bad for us, students would give up and remove their hands from the ice water earlier in the bad words allowed test. Turns out, nope. While allowed to swear, the participants lasted an average of 50% longer.
Good news for me, cuss words serves a legitimate purpose. They alleviate stress and relieve tension, both physical and mental. Curse words are a viable and important outlet for pain, distress, or fear.
So if cursing is so good for us, why are we so sensitive about shit, but don’t give a shit about crap? It’s back to that taboo thing. We just can’t shake the idea that bad words are disgustingly bad.
Hold on to your butts, folks, because I’m about to whip out a Harry Potter quote to make my point here. JK Rowling gave Albus Dumbledore a lot of really great, insightful quotes. But this one is probably my favorite. “Fear of a name increases fear of a thing itself.”
When we talk about cursing, the refusal to teach our kids how to properly curse often results in creating a sense of fear around the words. We create a forbidden fruit by telling our kids, “We don’t say those nasty words.” And forbidden fruit is always tastiest. Thus we end up with playground potty-mouths. Eventually, we learned to self-censor, mostly by pissing the wrong people off with our language and deciding the punishments weren’t worth the cussing. At least in front of our parents, grandparents, and teachers.
I am a proponent of a whole different ideology. To me and in my family, there is no such thing as bad words, only bad intentions. If the words shit and crap mean the same thing, there’s no reason to choose one over the other. And most of the time, if you’ve dropped something heavy on your foot, yelling Fudge! Really isn’t going to feel as nice as a good, throaty fuck. And as Mr. Stephens proved with his ice buckets, it isn’t going to relieve as much discomfort either.
Childhood is a tricky time. Most of us look at our kids and think, “man, you little shits have it good. No bills, no real responsibilities, three hots, and a cot.” But I’m guilty of forgetting just how hard it is to be a kid. Children are learning a lot of shit, all at once. Not the least of which is emotional control. Feelings are a lot bigger in tiny bodies.
Cursing can be a valid outlet of expressing those big feelings.
Remember, swears can help dampen anger, fear, or pain. That shit is hard to control when we are an adult with even a vague notion of how to process that. When you’re 8, cursing, encouraged carefully, gives that developing little brain a mode to parse out their feelings more efficiently and regain control more quickly.
Here’s where the line is drawn, however. You can say I feel like shit, or I feel like crap. Both of these are fine and communicate roughly the same idea. What you can’t do is call someone a piece of shit or a piece of crap. Doing so, no matter the curse word or the PG language, is trying to hurt someone’s feelings or diminish them as a person, and that’s just not okay. (Well mostly. There are some folks who just ARE pieces of shit, but that’s a discussion for another time.)
Once you start using curse words as insults or name-calling, you’ve crossed that line into bad intentions. I’m trying not to raise tiny douchebags. I don’t care if you say curse words. I do care if you call people names to be a dick or get a rise out of them.
We run into a different problem when we talk about cuss words and teaching kids how to use them carefully and appropriately—cursing actually pretty hard to define. We’ll talk about that in a moment, but it’s time for our Momma Cusses How-To Moment. Today – how to take your toddlers to the grocery store.
Old Timey Rag-Time Music Intro
· First, do not attempt to brave the grocery store solo with toddlers.
· If this is unavoidable, arrive at grocery store. Understand that the day you choose to shop, everyone within a ten-mile radius will already be there. Park a mile and a half away.
· Load children into toddler cart. Enter store. Realize you forgot both the diaper bag and list in the car. Wing it. And quickly, before someone poops.
· Spot old lady at produce section. To avoid unwanted baby questions and/or touching, do other shopping before grabbing bag of baby carrots.
· Remember the toddler cart has all the grace and finesse of a stoned arthritic elephant. Run into something with the distant corner at least sixteen times. Wonder who the hell gave you a license to operate vehicles 8 times the size of this god-forsaken toddler cart.
· Wander through store making babbling sounds in response to your children. Realize you sound like a lunatic. Decide this doesn’t matter because at least they aren’t screaming.
· Pretend you don’t smell the poop. Pretend you don’t know exactly which spiteful child did it too. Shop faster.
· Return to dairy section three separate times because you left the list in the car.
· Return to produce section for carrots. Realize the same old lady is still standing there. Decide between the poop and the ticking time bombs still magically cooperating with the shopping experience you have to brave the old lady for the carrots.
· Succeed in carrot procurement. Proceed to check-out line.
· Notice children are getting hungry while you wait to load the conveyor belt. Head that catastrophe off by shamelessly opening squeezie pouches of applesauce from cart.
· Load groceries onto belt. Divert wandering hands from grabbing every item off the impulse buy shelves. Fail at least twice. Wipe drool from M&Ms package before returning to shelf.
· Succeed in checking out. Congratulate yourself for remembering to pay for the already consumed squeezies. Return to vehicle. Change the poopy child in the back hatch. Know they only pooped because you left the diaper bag in the car. Load children then groceries.
· Decide next time your significant other can grocery shop.
This has been your Momma Cusses How-To Moment. Now back to the show.
Old Timey Rag-Time Music
When I was growing up, my mom was a pretty staunch anti-cussing advocate. It didn’t stick, of course. Sorry, mom. But the word piss was not a curse word for her. She grew up in New England, and while strong language is pretty easy to define there, piss just wasn’t a bad word. It could mean angry; it could mean pee. Whatever its use, it was an acceptable word.
But I grew up in Oklahoma, a weird hybrid of the Mid-west and the South. Apparently, here, piss is a curse word. I wasn’t very old, maybe 1st or 2nd grade when I cheekily informed my teacher a classmate had pissed me off. Needless to say, the teacher got pretty, well, pissed. She promptly placed a call to my mom. Thankfully my mom identified the language gap fairly early in the conversation and had the sense to feign shock and disbelief that her daughter had uttered such a phrase. I was deprived of recess and told that my mom would have a bar of soap waiting for me at home to wash my mouth out.
I was confused. When I got home, there was no soap nor angry mother. My mom explained that I shouldn’t say piss outside the house because it made people in Oklahoma mad. Matter ended.
But it was also my first taste of regional language taboo. To my New Englander mom who abhorred cursing, piss wasn’t a bad word; thus it was a word like any other in our home. To my southern belle of an elementary teacher, it might as well have been bitch or fuck.
Different cultures, regions, and peoples curse differently. A curse in one language is gibberish in another. To bum a fag in the UK means to get a cigarette from someone. In the US it really, really doesn’t mean that.
What makes a curse word a curse word is also up to the individual. I recently read a fantastic book by Emma Byrne called Swearing Is Good For You. I highly recommend for all my potty-mouthed listeners. The link is in the show notes on Mommacusses.com if you’re interested. (Side note – grab the audio version if you can listen to books because Ms. Byrne is British, and her accent is amazing. Cursing in British is just so damned perfect.) She discusses at great length the variations on swearing across the globe.
But what really grabbed me was Byrne explains that cursing can typically be divided into four distinct groups: Religious – Damn it, Jesus Christ, Holy Mother of God, Copulatory – Fucking, Dick, Pussy, Excretory – Shit, Piss and Slurs (these need not be defined here. Even I have my limits and slurs is apparently where that is.)
Some folks will curse like a truck-driving sailor but draw hard lines at religious swearing. Others will take the lord’s name in vain seven ways to Sunday but are made uncomfortable when referring to pussies or cocks. Because curse words are typically wrapped up in taboo culture, things forbidden or somehow dirty, each individual decides on exactly what is taboo for them. And not just about swearing but body modification, how modestly they dress, what can or cannot be eaten, or how to handle body hair. They draw their own lines based on a lot of things but primarily the regional language quirks, their upbringing, and their family, religious, or cultural values. And a lot of the time, those lines are erased and redrawn as age and life experience accumulates.
Since cursing is taboo, and what makes a taboo is a moving target, it can be impossible to decide what is and isn’t appropriate on a broad scale. Hence my elementary teacher getting pissed about the word pissed.
We are going to talk about cursing around kids in just a moment, but first, let’s pause and hear from our sponsors.
Intro Music: Surf Rock
In what is probably the universe’s most appropriate moment of karmic perfection, this episode is brought to you in part by That Crafty Bitch Company. That Crafty Bitch Company is a mom-owned small business out of Rockaway, New Jersey specializing in Not-So-Ugly Gag gifts. Why? Because women love funny shit. She designs and creates the most hilarious items, including wine tumblers, coffee mugs, coasters, the now-popular face masks, and more. And every single one of them is dripping with classy designs and a shitload of sarcasm and cussing. I ordered myself a lovely wine tumbler with beautiful flowers and the words Classy as Fuck in elegant print. I really do feel so fucking classy when I use this. She imprints all of her products herself, is funny as hell and is one of my favorite humans on the planet. You can visit her shop shoptcbco.com and check it out for yourself. Also, give her a follow on social media. The links are in the show notes on mommacusses.com.
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Intro Music: Surf Rock
And now, let’s jump into the dicey bits of cursing with kids. I run a mom’s group on Facebook, cleverly called Momma Cusses, and every single one of the mommas admit to cursing freely, gleefully even. But the approach to handling it around their kids varied. Some called cuss words “Grown-up words” and discourage cussing by the youth.
Yet other mommas decided that, like me, the kids were gonna hear them anyway, might as well teach them how to curse well.
There’s a part of me that started to wonder when my eldest was a toddler if I adopted the “No such thing as bad words” policy because I was apparently not born with natural filters. I truly suck at remembering to censor my language. I cursed in front of a Baptist preacher’s wife at a church we visited once. I knew where I was. I know how to speak like a grown-up. But the damn thing slipped out. (Luckily, it was right back to that word I’ve always struggled with, piss. Which, while a bad word where I live, isn’t as bad as I get. So there’s that.)
No matter where my motivation truly was, I just leaned into it with my eldest. I taught her the meanings and usage of the words and allowed her to use them as she pleased. Perhaps it was because she was regularly exposed to cursing, or perhaps it was because I hadn’t made it a taboo to try to break, but she didn’t really start cursing regularly until this year, at the age of thirteen.
Now with an eleven year age gap between her and my two youngest children, I’ve figured out that yes, I do suck at turning off the potty-mouth. But that’s not why I’m teaching my kids to say shit.
I’m allowing my kids to say “bad words” and learning how to use language freely because I learned to pick my battles. I didn’t have to stand on the hill of “we don’t say cuss words” and try to fight a battle I knew would be lost in the long-run with my eldest. And I won’t have to do it with these two.
However, I do have to remember to start using replacement words for the time being. Curse words are fine for me as long as you know what they mean. I don’t fucking care if you want to say yell out Fuck this fucking fuck at an uncooperative toy that refuses to do what you want it to do. But I do need you to know what fuck means and understand precisely what you are telling that toy to do.
Unfortunately, toddlers do not have that level of understanding. They are tiny voice recorders stuck on loop. My youngest daughter has since added plenty more words to her vocabulary. She still wanders through the house, chanting “Shit.” We tell the more conservative family members she is talking about boat. I don’t think they buy it. They’ve spoken to me for more than 30 seconds. They know damn well what she’s saying.
Needless to say, she is my consistent and constant reminder that, for now, we have to censor a bit.
In order to abide by the bad words, bad intentions idea, you have to know when it is appropriate to curse. Grandma does not like curse words, so intentionally using them around her is rude and disrespectful. Don’t use curse words around Grandma. Telling a preacher’s wife, the dogs pissed on the carpet this morning is inappropriate and in poor taste. Don’t use curse words around the preacher’s wife, Gwenna. (We don’t go to that church anymore… for many reasons, not the least of which is Gwenna’s filters malfunction a lot.)
There are also hard boundaries. Remember, taboos and curse words are defined by a person’s culture, upbringing, and personal choice. In our home, slurs of any variety are verboten. There is simply no way to say a racial, sexual, or identity slur and not have a bad intention. It’s the old adage of If you can’t say anything nice reworked a little. If you can’t mean it nicely, you don’t get to say it.
Teaching kids to curse, as with all things involving teaching kids anything, is not just a matter of exposure. There is a finesse to cursing, and boundaries must be set, understood, and respected. As for the oldest, I’m confident she knows the meanings of the words, but there’s still a learning curve to cursing. It’s like learning any language; you have to know how and when to use the words, or they end up feeling unnecessary.
I’ve more than once had to reign the elder child in after a flurry of completely unrelated curse words came flinging out of her in moments of high emotion. And damn it if it wasn’t incredibly hard to keep a straight face when explaining that cock-shit fairy-fucking taint-waddle might be a bit of overkill when annoyed that we are out of Dr. Pepper. (On a side note, I am currently looking for a situation to successfully deploy that particular curse. Because I love it so much more than I should.)
For now, we have to use a lot of replacement words. There’s a lot of Oh for FFFFFFFreaks’ sake going on in the Laithland house right now. As the littles get older, we’ll begin teaching them what the words mean and leave it in their hands as to how to use the language. If there’s no taboo attached to the words, there is no rebellious payoff to be enjoyed for using them.
So I’m teaching my kids to say shit.
How about you? Let me know in the comments your policies on teaching kids to say shit. Or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Before we go, we’ve got time for a Mom Joke of the Day. You know you’re a mom when happens now.
You know you’re a mom when picking a human up to smell their butt is not only completely normal; it is necessary.
You know you’re a mom when you honestly cannot figure out of the schmutz on your shirt is applesauce or a bodily fluid and if it’s the last one, which tiny human it belonged to.
You know you’re a mom when you’ve got eight different drinking glasses around the house, all with different beverages, prepared at different times of the day because you forgot you already had the other ones.
You know you’re a mom when you periodically yell out, “Hey! Stop That!” just in case someone is doing something they know they shouldn’t be doing.
You know you’re a mom when you can deal with kid vomit, snot, drool, and poop without batting an eyelash, but the thought of putting the clean laundry away makes you want to throw up.
You know you’re a mom when you just invite your kids to come to the bathroom with you because they’re gonna end up in there anyway.
And finally, you know you’re a mom when “Hey, we don’t lick hair” seems like a perfectly normal sentence to you.
Thanks so much for listening to The Momma Cusses Podcast. We need to thank our sponsors for their support, and The Fox Sisters for the use of their song Stuck on You for the intro and outro of the podcast.
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See ya soon. Stay fierce, bitches.