Bad Words and Kids

As a parent, I want to instill similar values my parents vested into me: don’t steal, be polite to others, etc. But the one I never agreed with were the idea of “bad words.”

George Carlin said it best (and of course I’ll paraphrase,) “you 300,000 words in the English language: good words. You 12, BAD.”

So from a very young age I’ve tried to explain to my kids that the words themselves aren’t bad, the context which they’re used may be.

Case in point, my 7-year old son is reading a comic book where a man doesn’t want to go down the “damn stairs” and he pulled me aside and asked if he should be reading the book. I explained in the context of the story, the character, who was trying to escape and didn’t wish to use the fire escape was showing anger and chose those words. He understood that the word was used under duress and stress; therefore the character showed his anger by using “damn.”

Is it wrong that I want them to understand the words aren’t wrong or bad, only the context in which they’re used?



2 thoughts on “Bad Words and Kids

  1. So… are you saying that if one is stressed and/or angry, it’s perfectly acceptable to express this with any words one chooses? — or that if one is stressed and/or angry, any words chosen will temporarily ruined by association with bad context?

    Certainly, the letters/sounds/what-have-you that make up any given word are not bad in and of themselves. It is only once they have been attributed meaning and the meaning deemed offensive that they become taboo. If a large enough chunk of society agreed that “damn” would henceforth mean “purple” and nothing else, that would be one less word sitting in the “naughty” pile. Conversely, if everyone started screaming “Purple you straight to Hades!”, Crayola might have to rethink their crayon labels.

    Out of curiosity, then, under which conditions are you suggesting that “bad” words have a valid place in one’s vocabulary?

    • I believe calling words bad by association from past images or past experiences is exactly why we’re having this conversation. I’ve told my kids many times that there are many things I don’t wish they to say or call people such as “stupid” since its a direct attack on another person. I’m also not saying stupid itself is a bad word, it’s merely the context in which the word itself is considered bad.

      I agree with what you say about purple and changing the meanings of current words – it’s unnecessary and in most cases demeaning to the listener or reader since you’re now substituting another word in place of what is actually meant.

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