Monday, 21 July 2014

'Sticks and stones...' or The perils of language

*Spoiler Alert* Beware, faint-hearted reader, this missive contains language likely to offend.  Read on at your peril and don't say I didn't warn you.

Hearing the word 'fuck' from the mouth of a seven year old is never going to be a happy occasion for any parent.  But like everything else you're not quite prepared for, you deal with it as best you can at the time you are faced with it and keep your fingers crossed that you won't spend years paying for therapy as a result of your helpful/encouraging 'anything goes' attitude to questions between mother and child.
Language is a tricksy creature: majestic and mercurial; slipping and sliding; context dependent; designed for so many purposes and as a consequence, so ripe for misinterpretation.  I have no idea how we got to the subject of swearing, but along with anything to do with toilets, bottoms, farts, poo, willies and vaginas, as a parent you can kind of hear the warning bells going off when it's too late to discover that there is no room for a U-turn in this particular linguistic cul-de-sac.  
My helpful answer to the innocent query as to why some words are considered rude went something as follows - 'well, it depends on who is saying it, why they are saying it and where, oh and to whom and it is usually something to do with your private area as people seem to find this insulting' (cue explanation as to what 'taboo' means as I usefully used that term to someone for whom it simply muddied the waters further by introducing another piece of marvelous language which had hitherto been unknown and indeed, un-needed).  At some point it also became clear that the 's' word was going to be mentioned  - as in 'why is sex rude then'?  Because I'd said that some swear words meant more to do with sex; 'remember, that's when the man puts his willy into the woman's vagina and it's one way that you can have a baby when the sperm meets the egg?' (as you can see, we were hitting all the marks for 'difficult' conversations in one fell swoop).  So as a result, I then had an interesting chat beginning, 'but why is sex not a rude word but fuck is when they mean the same thing?'  It isn't until you have a simple conversation with a child that you begin to see quite how empowering some words with a sort of linguistic superpower is really quite ridiculous.
I think we sorted it all out.  At least, nobody woke screaming in the night and I haven't had to wash anybody's mouth out with soap.  Yet.  Essentially, the message was; language is immensely varied and exciting and you should enjoy using words, experimenting with words and discovering what they can do for you.  However, use certain 'taboo' words in the wrong situation LIKE AT SCHOOL OR TO ANY ADULT OR FOR THAT MATTER, ANY FRIEND WHO IS LIKELY TO GO AND TELL ON YOU and you will regret that particular linguistic adventure.
I remember seeing Mamet's Oleanna in London when it starred Aaron Eckheart and Julia Stiles - she is a student, struggling with her classes who (and this is up for discussion and dependent on your personal viewing of the play) misinterprets her professor's offer of help as an act of sexual exploitation which ultimately leads to her accusation of rape and the destruction of his career.  The part that I remember the most, is what he called her - should I refer to it coyly as 'the c word' or just go for it and say 'cunt'?  Well. I've said it now and the world hasn't stopped turning.  I don't particularly have a problem with that word, any more than the use of any gender specific language which is used in a derogatory manner towards women, or for that matter, men.   I think what has made me remember this and indeed, what caused the audience to gasp (at a word which though still considered 'taboo', is hardly a rarity in its usage) was the meaning behind it; the anger, hatred and fury which accompanied it and the personally destructive nature that the word had on the recipient.  It was a very good use of the word if in using it, Mamet intended to shock the audience.   
This then shows, I suppose, the positive of the occasional use of 'taboo' words; when well placed and unexpected, they really do punch home meaning which is why, when these words are over used, they loose their power to shock and draw attention to themselves and are rendered useless.
It's the first time I've ever been a mother to a seven year old so I hope my honesty was well judged and won't catch me up on a dark night sometime, making me regret not simply moving on quickly to safer bedtime conversational territory.  
I think it's fine.
I still hope I don't have a phone call from school telling me about a certain young man experimenting with inappropriate language just yet though.

No comments:

Post a Comment