Friday, 2 December 2011

Mind your Language

I was taking son number 2 to preschool the other day and the car park is a public car park frequented by a load of kids on skateboards. I don’t have a problem with these kids, in fact my boys love to watch them on their skateboards, it’s a free country. But on this occasion, one lad, who had fallen off his skateboard, shouted “c***” at the top of his voice. And I surprised myself by being absolutely livid.

I’m not usually the kind of person to be offended by swearing. They are just words and do no harm, and I like to think that people are free to express themselves however they choose, but since having children I find myself becoming more and more offended by the language people use, not for myself, but in trying to protect my kids.

When son number 1 said the F-word aged 3 I was shocked at how upsetting I found it. Obviously he was reprimanded and hasn’t said it again. But why are swear words swear words? What is the difference between my kids stubbing their toe and saying “fiddlesticks” as opposed to “shit”? The meaning is the same.

To me people do far more offensive things every single day. Such as not saying their please and thank you’s and not apologising when they have been in the wrong, but often these things aren’t considered as bad as swearing. It’s perfectly OK to not apologise for skinning my ankle with your buggy, but highly offensive to say “bollocks” when it hurts. It’s a strange set of values.

Many people argue that swearing is just for ignorant people, devoid of the education needed to use language properly. To me, swearing is just a different way of expressing yourself and has no bearing on a person’s educational background, gender or age. In fact, you could argue that those with a colourful swearing vocabulary actually have more words at their finger tips than those who refuse to use slang.

I also don’t understand why some swear words are more offensive than others. Some people don’t have an issue with the word “sh*t” but they can’t stand the f word or the even more controversial, c word. I suppose if someone called me a “vagina” (I still can’t say that word without sniggering) I would probably be pretty upset about it, in the same way as someone called me a c-word. But they both mean the same thing don’t they? So why is one bad and one acceptable?

It is all down to the emotion behind the word and the situation you are in I suppose. Being a mum I’ve had to take the kids to the doctors with toilet trouble on more than one occasion and still find it impossible to say when they have had a “bowel movement” as opposed to a “poo”. But if you think about it, most words that we think of as swear words have 3 versions, the clinical (bowel movement), the everyday-some-people-might-be-offended word (poo), and the swear word (shit). Think about it. You can do it with most swear words, it’s great fun. Although I can’t see it catching on as a car game but school is always telling us parents to use games to increase kids vocab.

I have wrestled with this argument all morning, trying to think of just why people find these words offensive, and why I don’t have a problem with people swearing around me but I can’t stand people swearing around my kids. Kids might copy everything they hear and see but we can’t protect them from everything. I often worry (amongst other things) that my kids will grow up and get flesh tunnels then change their mind and take them out and end up with massive droopy ear lobes for the rest of their lives. But flesh tunnels are not considered offensive or something that shouldn’t be seen around kids. Loads of teenagers have them.

The crux of it all is, it doesn’t matter why swearing is offensive, there is no point in arguing the case for or against it. I’m sure we could debate this subject all day but it won’t change the fact that some people find things offensive and therefore, in certain situations, swearing should be avoided so as not to upset people. While researching this piece I came across a guy on a forum who said that swearing should be thought of in the same way as farting, used only when you really need to, when you can’t restrain yourself, for comedy value and/or only in the right setting, which I think is a pretty good set of rules to go by. Now piss off and enjoy your weekend.

Just a quick note – I am coming up to my hundredth post in the next few weeks and thought it might be fun to throw it out there and ask you guys if there was any topics you would like to see covered on my blog. No pressure, but it would be interesting to hear some of your ideas. Please comment anywhere on the blog or email me at with your ideas. Please note this is NOT a competition, no rules apply and there are no prizes, sorry! J

Monday, 28 November 2011

Facebook killed the Christmas Card

It now appears to be socially acceptable etiquette to do a Facebook status update on Christmas day saying “Happy Christmas to everyone I know”, hoping that people might see it (on the off chance they are surfing Facebook and it pops up on their news feed), rather than send actual Christmas cards. This new way of doing things is attractive to me because it is potentially another thing I can strike off my bulging Christmas to-do list (or not put it on there in the first place). But I just can’t shake the feeling that I am not doing things properly. I am a proper grown up with a proper Christmas card list and everything, but every year around this time I am faced with the same dilemma, to send cards or not?

Christmas cards are a great way to reconnect with people you haven’t seen for a long time. Let them know that you still care in a personal way. Just like emails, which can be written in half the time without the need to buy stamps or go out in the cold to find a post box before the last posting dates for Christmas.

Houses bereft of cards at Christmas time is a pretty depressing state of affairs to find ourselves in, as I do, almost every year. I have never needed more than one short ribbon to display my own Christmas cards, how sad. Although since Son number 1 has been at preschool (and now big school) he seems to get one from everyone in the school (probably written by their mums, as I do his, which is not really in the spirit of things but better than nothing) which have to be displayed and this bumps up our numbers somewhat. My mum gets millions, strung up in every room as a free Christmas decoration and announcement to any visitor of how popular she is. Although technically she is cheating because a lot of her card buddies were inherited from her parents who came from a time when a card at Christmas was the only contact distant friends would have year on year.

I can’t bare the thought of another tradition dying out. Our kids already don’t understand cassettes, phones you had to stay in one place to use and only having 4 telly channels, what will become of them if we let Christmas cards die out? They can “talk” to their friends over Facebook, they don’t even need to be in the same room as each other to play games together, so won’t see the need for Christmas cards at all. But I really want them to experience the joys of Christmas cards. Getting an email is not the same as getting real post, where’s the excitement in a tiny “pop” sound compared to a nice thud of post on the mat?

I love to write Christmas cards in theory. I feel all festive sitting down with my address book and list, Christmas songs in the background, and writing a personal message in each one… “Congratulations on your exam results!”, “New house, how exciting!” “How is Uncle Bob’s hernia these days?”, for the first ten. After that they slowly get less and less elaborate until the last few unfortunate people on the list get “[names] Happy Christmas (which is already printed in the card) love [names]” I mean really, what is the point?

Stamps are expensive, cards are expensive, it’s all added cost at a time of year when we are already over spending and trying not to think about the fact that we will still need to eat in January. And don't think handmaking your cards will save you any money either, the craft shops saw us coming.

The environmentalists out there have the best excuse. Don’t send cards because they all end up in landfill anyway. You could argue that there are specialist recycling places which will recycle them for you. But we all know that despite the good intentions of most of us, Christmas cards get taken down and shoved in a pile on twelfth night, where they stay until March when they unceremoniously and guiltily get chucked in the bin when no one is looking. If you’re thrifty and organised (I would like to think I am both, but my bank balance and the fact that I still haven’t bought any Christmas presents tells me otherwise) you can cut up the cards to make tags for presents the following year. But then you are left with tags that don't match and its even more hassle and you still have to chuck half of it away.

I still don’t know what to do. I think there should be a national referendum about this, then at least everyone would be doing the same thing.

But just in case I don’t get around to sending Christmas cards this year, I want you all to know how special you are to me, each and every one of you. See? Who says the internet can’t be personal?