‘Forfookinsake,’ my son says, under his breath and not for the first time. He started saying this after a nine-hour drive from Holyhead to London this summer, during which I may have uttered a similar phrase several times while trying to get his baby sister to stop being violently car sick.
His odd pronunciation of said phrase is partly due to his lack of profane vocabulary and partly his deep-seeded English need to mock the boggy diction of his parents’ accents. My tongue probably does swing a little closer to my roots when my mind is clouded with anger, but it doesn’t help to be reminded of this from the unblemished lips of my five-year-old son.
It is undeniably funny when small children swear
We were doing so well. Back when he was three, we began a mostly successful effort to stop swearing around him, committing to a strict diet of minced oaths. I still can’t lower myself to say sugar or fudge, but more bespoke variants like ‘plorp’, ‘flippity heckins’ and ‘blooming grundies’, bring me some joy at least.
That time, I’d turned the air blue during what I took to be a private moment of frustration, causing him to repeat some fruity language back to us afterwards; a cheerily bleated ‘Puck!’, and thereafter, a coruscating chorus of ‘Puck! Puck! Puck!’ that followed us around the room, as my wife cast me that admiring ‘Good job!’ look you only get if you’ve really nailed your fatherly duties.
Curiously, he’d recreated the more accurate pronunciation of this word by accident a whole year earlier, during that nerve-shredding period when he hadn’t quite mastered the ‘tr’ digraph, pronouncing it with an ‘f’ instead. This was fine when he called trousers ‘fousers’, trains ‘fains’ and their tracks ‘fax’, but garnered rather more salty results when it came to constant discussion of his trucks.
Our policy with such outbursts, then as now, was to react as little as possible. This is not easy. The sad fact is that no matter how much we may groan when it happens in an Adam Sandler movie, in real life it is undeniably funny when small children swear. Worse, when your days are spent looking after said small children, awash with all the drudge and exhaustion that can so often entail, it’s a dart of pure strength comedy that can seem like water in the desert.
And yet you must remain stone-faced, lest you cement it in their heads as a winning strategy for gaining your attention. Allow that to happen, the theory goes, and, before long, that innocent utterance from your blameless child will become their new catchphrase and you’ll be arrested by child services for having an infant who swears as if they’re working the big room of a working men’s club in 1964.
So, we remain quietly paralysed, hoping his utterances of ‘forfookinsake’ wane away to nothing. They are happening less and less, while messing with his Lego perhaps, or having dropped some food in his lap. We tell ourselves each might be the last, and pray he doesn’t repeat it in school, and swear as little as possible, and then I smash my big toe on the kitchen door and oh my blooming grundies, flippity heckins, plorp my life.
Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Séamas O’Reilly is out now (Little, Brown, £16.99). Buy a copy from guardianbookshop at £14.78
Follow Séamas on Twitter @shockproofbeats