Learning to talk (in)appropriately

Story from Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky about her 7-year-old daughter Opal (reported here with Opal’s permission):

She had carefully divided her library books into “read” and “unread”. I brought the book bag, which contained the unread book, in from the car. She woke up in the morning and demanded to know where her library books were, so I told her. She threw herself to the floor, sobbing, and said “But I had my heart set on reading my library books! I wanted Garfield as soon as I woke up!” I said, reasonably, “Then why don’t you get them out of the car?” She got up, bravely dried her tears, took a deep breath, looked me in the eye, and said “Then why don’t you give me the fuckin’ car keys?”

So, she knows how to deploy fuckin’ (also how to use why don’t you questions to convey requests or suggestions indirectly). Her mother did ask her to rephrase the request more politely, and she offered a reformulation without the fuckin’. (She did not, thank goodness, resort to something like “Then why don’t you give me the fuckin’ car keys, please?”)

Elizabeth continues in her message to me:

When I retold her this story to ask if you could write about it, she laughed, and then she thought about it and said “Sure. I was really mad. Sometimes I use inappropriate words when I’m mad.”

So she also has some grasp of when taboo vocabulary is inappropriate.


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