Saturday, July 21, 2012

What George Carlin taught me about swearing

I can't even remember how George Carlin came up the other day. Then again, I guess it really doesn't matter. The point is, I've had Carlin on my mind.

My early memories of George Carlin

George Carlin will forever remind me of childhood. My dad started his career in radio, and he had a station copy of Occupation Foole at home. I clearly remember, "Not for play," being written in thick black marker next to some of the routines.

I can't even remember when I first heard the full album, but I know I had an appreciation for him early on. At first, it was simply for his silly faces and poses on the album cover.

The naughty seven words

As I got older, I respected the fact that my dad had an album that he enjoyed that he hadn't been allowed to play at a job.

As an adult, I remember borrowing our friend Bret's Class Clown (on cassette!) for a road trip. Where George and I were going, I can't remember. But I do remember listening to Carlin, and memorizing his delivery of the infamous seven words. When I was able to deliver them just as quickly as Carlin did, I was proud.

Parenthood and swearing

Now as a parent, swearing is weird territory for me. I'm not supposed to do it, but sometimes I can't help myself. I'm getting better at altering what I'm saying. "Mother of pearl" has become a favourite.

When I was growing up, swearing was the signal that the person using the word(s) was really angry about something. And it served as a warning, or as a message to those of us around that person.

Some people feel swearing is reserved for those lacking the smarts to say anything intelligent.

I think over his career in comedy, Carlin really put that argument to rest. Many of his routines riffed on serious topics - religion, drugs, abortion, classism - but injected comedy to catch and keep our attention.

Perhaps his delivery wasn't your cup of tea (and if so, I don't want any of what you're drinking, thank you very much) but he was able to form an informed, intelligent argument, swearing and all.

Sometimes folks, swearing gets the point across.

Now don't go thinking I'm swearing up a storm. I'm not hoping for my child to call another child a mother-fucker in the playground. But I don't think it will damage him to hear a naughty word from time to time.


  1. Haha. I remember at some coffee break at the beginning of the project, you told me, "and by the way, you have to know I swear a lot."

    I just let me (now) 9yo son watch Wargames (1983) with me, and I didn't realize how many swear words there were in the film. Figures he's already heard them all.

    Not gratuitous, mind you. But they definitely made the right impact. They were gonna blow up the world, after all!

    1. Lol, yeah, I remember warning you about that. Working in journalism will do that to a person. Just realized I wonder if this post leaves the impression that my parents swear a lot - they actually don't, hence it making an impression when they did when I was growing up.

      I haven't Wargames in ages

  2. I swear in front of Ken the Cat all the time, and I'm pretty sure he repeats it all to other cats in the neighbourhood.

    But, as far as I'm concerned, he's just preparing early for the real world.

    Kids hear it all from other kids, songs, TV...gosh darn...they even read swearing on shirts! There's not much we can do to protect them, other than to help them know appropriate audiences from inappropriate audience.

    ie. Do not call teacher a douchebag. DO call school yard bully a douchebag. Deny knowing what the word 'douchebag' means to the guidance councellor during your mental assessment. ETC.

    1. Mewdell, you just made me laugh out loud in Starbucks. Well done!