It was a pleasant surprise at Mother’s Group this morning that I wasn’t the only one trying to repair my potty mouth. New Year’s resolutions among certain families include honeying up our words. After all, it’ll be hard to explain why Baby’s First Word is “@$&*$^%$&@#”.

But what, technically, is swearing?

There’s the biblical definition, of course. Specifically,

  • “But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.” (James 5:12)
  • “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” (Matthew 5:33-37)
  • You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7)

In short, no oaths (“With my poodle as my witness!”), and no taking the Lord’s name in vain (“OMG!”). And of course, saying the explicit “I swear!” Which makes the All-4-One 1994 hit an awkward karaoke choice. All these, I’m already mindful of and have little trouble committing. Incidentally, whenever I hear someone yelling “Jesus Christ!” as an expletive, I’ve been tempted to run down the corridors screaming, “WHERE?! WHERE?! I’M COMING, LORD JESUS! WAIT FOR MEEEEE!” But in truth, I sorely lack the guts.

Moving along…

I can cuss like a sailor. It’s one of the many things I struggle with, and I’d grown progressively worse with my current corporate job. From the gentle euphemism (“Sugar!” – seldom used), to the alliterative (“Friggin’!”), to the fecal (rhymes with “oven mitt”), to the quiet and copuler (“….”), I can cuss like the best of them. I try to be kind and rewind, and sometimes I stop myself in the nick. But when I am tired or stressed or in sudden pain, it spills over as easily as thick, creamy foam atop the perfect cappuccino.

Always on the brim, always threatening to dribble over on the sides and ruin the moment.

The thing is, cussing is a form of instant gratification and very cheap catharsis. And where does one draw the line? Words that have changed their meaning over time and space? (Bugger.)  Euphemisms? (Shivers!) Gibberish replacement words? (Oh heck!) And what does one say in its place? “Oh dear!” and “Oh no!” are underwhelming, vague, inaccurate in communicating the extent of your excitement or anguish, and about as bland as a four-month old’s diet.

And let’s not forget intention. If you had meant to say “hell” and said “heck” instead, are you still swearing in your heart? Isn’t that teaching our children, all the more, NOT to let our yeses be yeses, and our nos be nos? Is “bloody” an adjective, a cultural insert, or just a word in bad taste to be avoided in polite company? Or do we create a new language? When I was 15, the word “kumquat” became my replacement expletive, because it was inoffensive, had 2 strong consonants, and gave me something to say when things went to putz. “Peanut” is another one that my twenty-year-old cousin and I have devised – its use is more to connote disdain and contempt for an unsavoury situation we’ve found ourselves in. (“Missed the bus and the next one is coming an hour later!” “Peeeea-nut.”)

Your guess is as good as mine. And as I’ve already confessed earlier, I’m no expert on curbing the tongue. But in a real effort to change bad habits so my daughter’s future vocabulary doesn’t suffer, I’ve come up with 3 rules-of-thumb:

  1. “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29)
  2. There is always the option of NOT saying anything.
  3. Imagine Arddun saying what I just said, in front of my in-laws. If it makes me want to burrow a large hole to China, there’s my clue.

Meanwhile, it’s been day 2 of my no-swear endeavour, and I’ve already failed twice. As Ivy’s Mother pointed out, having a swear jar – with all proceeds going to a family holiday – isn’t proving medication and incentive enough. The most difficult bit for me is stopping the reflex. Particularly when I stub my toe, or forget something important, or something explodes. The other difficult bit is being quick and creative enough to fill the swear vacuum with something new and improved. But it can be done, and it has to be done, and by golly gosh goodness gumdrops, I will conquer this. With God’s help, of course.