The Worst Bad Word You Can Teach a Kid to Say

Whenever I’m angry or frustrated, I tend to say a very nasty, very ugly word.

Naturally, I say it often.

It starts with an ‘s’ and ends in a ‘t.’

I never really thought much of it, to be honest. It has always seemed harmless, even as an ordained minister. I mean, it’s just a word after all.

Then, in a fit of his own frustration, my son said it.

The moment I heard it, I was mortified.

I knew I’d have to clean up my language.

Immediately. That day.

“SHOOT!” my son shouted, loud enough for the neighbors to hear.

If only he’d said shit instead.

Sometimes the euphemism is worse than the original.

Original Image Copyright: Charles Knowles, Flickr

When we first became parents, my spouse and I decided we wouldn’t allow toy guns in our house. It was a decision that rankled some of our relatives, but, for us, it was nonnegotiable. Too many children, even in responsible and diligent families, accidentally shoot themselves or their siblings, and these incidents are vastly underreported, according to this heartwrending New York Times report from this week.

No guns. No shooting. Not even shooting noises. Not even with their fingers.

But I overlooked one thing: my language.

I had undermined my own parenting when it came to guns. I had wanted them to view guns as evil, meant for harm and hurting others, weapons of mass destruction.

Because that is exactly what they are.

And given that we have no need for a militia for our nation’s defense, I don’t consider it an inalienable right to bear the kind of arms only a mercenary or a mass murderer would need. And toy versions of those military-style guns are exactly what’s marketed to children.

But then every time I would get angry or frustrated — when I’m in traffic, when I stub my toe, when I’m in traffic, when I break a glass in the dishwasher, when I’m in traffic — I would let it slip.

Shoot! Shoot! Shoot! 

It was my first instinct. And it became my children’s as well.

But I would much rather their first instinct, when angry or frustrated, to be a natural bodily function than an unnatural one.

I don’t want my children to learn to associate anger and frustration with the pulling of a trigger.

With letting fly a lethal bullet.

With lashing out.

With shooting.

Original Image Copyright: Geoffrey Fairchild, Flickr

I don’t solve my problems with violence, but every time I shouted, “Shoot!” when upset, I implied that I wanted to, deep down.

And, let’s be honest, shooting when angry is much, much worse than shitting when angry.

Thankfully, my children now know shoot is a bad word in our family. Whenever they catch me saying it, they call me on it, and I apologize. And I remind them that even though habits are hard to break, I’m not planning on saying that ugly, nasty word any more.

I’ll be saying shit instead.

About David R. Henson

David Henson received his Master of Arts from Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, after receiving a Lilly Grant for religious education for journalists. He ordained in the Episcopal Church as a priest. He is a father of two young sons and the husband of a medical school student.

  • eric_in_ohio

    David! This is great!

  • Nancy

    Happy to have the wonderful Southern alternative: “shucks” :-)

  • Y. A. Warren

    LOVE IT! I also love the comment of Nancy.

  • dave

    I am an ordained Chaplain and conceal carry everyday. I pray you will never need a gun to protect your family. I pray none of your family is injured or killed when you could have prevented it if you had a weapon at your disposal. Teach your children respect for weapons and train them in the safe use of those weapons. Better alternative. God bless you and your family.

    • Robert Wood

      It’s simple.. It’s better spiritually to be killed than to kill. Turning the other cheek was never easy.

      • http://www.odubcm.org/ Brett

        Very true Robert. Somehow though my wife balks at this concept when it comes down to what can happen to her emotionally, mentally, and of course spiritually (let alone physically) if she is not able to protect herself (or I protect her) from those who might do her harm. I believe that violence is never the answer even when violence is being brought to you by others (clearly Jesus modeled this for us); however, (and even though it violates this belief) for the protection of my wife I have to move beyond this truth. I have heeded the words of Christ that Daniel mentions above as well and know these actions are not of God. As Dave said, I hope and pray I will never need a weapon of any kind (knowing full well using it would change everything forever), but if my wife (or really anyone I could protect) were harmed, raped, abused, mutilated, or worse because of my non-weapon views that criminals do not heed… I can’t do it.

        I am not sure, in this world, it is fair to my wife to think this way. Also, I’m not sure owning a gun in case of emergency is really living by it. I respect every ounce of those who do not have weapons in their home (especially their faith and trust), but in this world I simply do not understand it. I realize we can lose more than what can be done to or taken from these jars of clay, that it’s un-Christian to even point a gun at someone, etc. All that said, if and when someone decides to harm my wife, comes into our sacred so called home, well, I would like to be able to protect my loved ones, not sacrifice them as my belief system dictates. I’m living in a dichotomy that cannot exist but I cannot live outside of it. It’s not easy either way, you’re right, but Robert, it’s not simple to put your son/daughter/wife on the altar. God bless those who can for I believe they will truly see the kingdom of God.

  • Daniel

    The American obsession with owning guns and the fearful belief that one needs a gun to live a safe, protected life (fuelled ironically by the sheer number of guns in the hands of so many ordinary people), is completely baffling to me as a Canadian. Its especially baffling to me that someone who calls himself/herself a “Christian” can, in any way, reconcile owning and using weapons with following the one who said “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword”, and who went to the cross, rather than striking back. Great post David. Keep up the good work and the good theology.

  • Friend

    Oh! And all this time I thought you were saying “chute”.
    Thank you for this.

  • http://www.odubcm.org/ Brett

    David, great post. I always enjoy the way you weave together ideas and flush out a well thought through theme.

    Last night Sarah and I read a short story by Flannery O’Conner called “The Turkey.” One of the many various things she addresses in the short few pages, are the inner thoughts that we have and how this works in the mind of an eleven year old boy (at least in her imagination which I think is fairly accurate). The boy has no reason in his own mind to really “curse” (which in this story mostly entails using the word like goddamn or other God oriented thoughts which he knows are wrong) but has of course heard others, especially his older brother, use these phrases and words constantly. So then when he finds himself in a frustrating situation his thoughts begin to think with these words – immediately blushing and wondering if he is a bad boy suddenly heading down the wrong path because he is saying these things (as he has heard his mother and father talk about his older brother – “nothing can be done” sort of language). It’s amazing the many layers of this topic that she addresses simply by entering into the mind of a young boy and how he thinks about his internal dialogue.

    Your thoughts on the implication of saying shoot versus shit is quite interesting and its always been at the heart of where conversation on language has gone in my own experience when folks are earnestly seeking truth. If we are going to condemn certain words, which are in fact only words as you said, then perhaps other words, that are not bad but have the same heart intent as bad words, should be banned from congenial conversation as well. My favorite, having moved to the South in high school, has always been “doggonnit” or “dangnabit” or any other version of this Southern word. It does not seem difficult to me to consider for a moment at this word’s etymology, and finding it may just have its roots in “goddamn it.” How funny is it that we feel so comfortable saying something so similar to what makes most peoples’ skin crawl?

    Anyway, I enjoyed reading this post my friend. I do not agree with all of it, as you’ll see from another comment, but I do find children to be little mimicking sponges – absorbing pretty much everything they see and hear and then doing it. It’s great to be reminded that there are some good fathers out there modeling what it means to be a person of integrity, especially after watching the news. Thanks!

  • http://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/ Lothar Lorraine

    Is it true that “shit” is a grave slang word in English?
    Because in German almost everyone often say “Scheiße”, or in French “Merde”.

  • http://www.simplyfreeblog.com/ Lauren

    Very well put. Thanks for sharing.

  • MBAPOLUVDGJ

    Im not at the bottom Im not at the top

  • poop

    poop

  • Halfway down the stair

    Halfway down the stairs is a stair where I sit.
    There isn’t any other stair quite like it.
    I’m not at the bottom, I’m not at the top.
    So this is the stair where I always stop.

    Halfway up the stairs isn’t up and isn’t down.
    It isn’t in the nursery, it isn’t in the town.
    And all sorts of funny thoughts run round my head.
    It isn’t really anywhere, it’s somewhere else instead.

    Halfway down the stairs is a stair where I sit.
    There isn’t any other stair quite like it.
    I’m not at the bottom, I’m not at the top.
    So this is the stair where I always stop.


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