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April 27, 2013

Editing the color out of my language


I’ve been thinking about all this because my daughter is nearing that age where she starts suddenly and unpredictably repeating things she has heard. I have a little grace period — right now it’s tough to tell if she’s saying, “dog,” “Dada,” “door” or just making random “D” sounds — but I have it on good authority that these things have a way of sneaking up on you. 

And I am fully aware that four-letter words and other profane utterances have a way of slipping out of my mouth, even when I don’t mean to swear. 

So I am trying to watch myself. I don’t want to get a phone call from day care telling me that my daughter is doing what I did in grade school — that is, teaching her classmates all the bad words she knows. 

I’ve learned from experience that the best way to avoid swearing is to go cold turkey. If just one little bad word trickles out, pretty soon the floodgates are open. 

At work, I’m pretty good at keeping a lid on it, thanks to an array of creative swear-word alternatives. My co-workers are accustomed to hearing me exclaim “Rats!”, “For the love of Pete” or “Sugar plum fairy!” when I’m frustrated. If I’m really steamed, I’ll drop a “Gosh darn it all to heck” on them. 

But when I’m at home — well, let’s just say that my standard utterances include nearly every word on Carlin’s list, plus a few more thrown in for good measure. 

I want my daughter to understand that words have power, and that not all words are appropriate for all occasions. What I refuse to do is to tell her that there are words she cannot speak in her own home. But the piece about how I keep her from saying them at day care? That one still escapes me. 

So for the time being, there’s going to be a lot more “Rats” and a lot less of ... those other words. My daughter may be growing up in a world where people can swear on live TV and not get in trouble for it, but I have a feeling that her elementary school principal might feel differently.

Emily F. Popek is assistant editor of The Daily Star. Contact her at

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