“Oh boy! Oh boy! Oh boy!” At sixteen months, our toddling granddaughter was thrilled with her new-found ability to mimic what she heard people around her saying. She was picking up several new words a day. “Where did she learn that?” her mother asked. Nobody remembered saying “Oh boy!” but it’s the sort of thing any of us might say without thinking about it, especially when we’re playing with an exuberant toddler. Wherever she heard it, there she stood, gleefully chanting her latest verbal acquisition.
I had an extra chuckle remembering an incident the previous day. Grandpa had used a slightly colorful word and been reminded that little ears were recording every word. He and I locked eyes across the room and broke out in huge grins. “You’re thinking of that movie, Meet the Fockers, right?” observed our daughter. Yes, we were. If you haven’t watched that movie, there’s a scene where the main character lets the BS epithet fly with gusto in front of a non-verbal baby. The baby surprised his caretaking grandparents with a colorful first word half an hour later….
That all spun me back to one of my own earliest memories. My grandparents took me home with them for a week or two after my baby sister was born, a few months before I was three. While I was there, I got frustrated at something and blurted out “Doggone it!” The result was totally unexpected, and in my opinion, totally unfair.
“Don’t you ever say that again! Little girls don’t talk that way!” scolded my grandmother, in the sternest tone I’d ever heard her use—in fact, it was probably the first time anyone had ever .
I was devastated and withdrew to the front porch to lick my wounds. I didn’t understand her reaction at all. In the first place, I didn’t know there were things you weren’t supposed to say. But even if there were, my daddy said that all the time, and I knew my daddy wouldn’t say anything bad. I learned my lesson instantly, and I was careful never to say that again, at least not when she was around. My Inner Censor was born that very day, fully clothed and capable of judging situations as well as vocabulary.
Over the years I’ve acquired a sizable vocabulary that my Inner Censor keeps a tight lid on. The X-list has changed from time to time. During some periods the Censor was lazier than others, and sometimes she’s been challenged almost to the limit when I’ve been around someone who routinely used crude language. My brain is still like wee Sarah’s, recording and savoring intense phrases, and straining at the synapses to repeat them! But my Censor has help from within. Before I was in high school I learned and continue to believe that it’s a much greater and more rewarding challenge to find a creatively colorful way of self-expression rather than simply repeating profane platitudes.
Sarah’s Inner Censor won’t emerge for well over a year, but we’ll continue to shelter her ears until then, and even beyond, and hopefully we’ll continue to be delighted at the unexpected phrases she does acquire.
What memories do you have of things children (your own or others) have learned? What about the birth and function of your own Inner Censor? What is your attitude toward profanity? Has it changed over the years?
Sharon Lippincott, aka Ritergal