My four year old has a fairly expansive vocabulary that grows daily thanks to plenty of reading, Sesame Street, and school. She knows the meaning of “concentrating,” inappropriate and a plethora of other words that my wife and I think are pretty impressive for someone of her tender age. But this past weekend she heard a word we hoped she wouldn’t have heard for years to come.
Let me preface this by saying my daughter loves music, and has since she was born. Heck, Kara and I sang to her while she was in utero, and played plenty of music. She has an uncanny ability to remember lyrics and I love watching her as she listens to a song with a quizzical look, knowing her brain is processing the words and melody. We realized this talent when she spontaneously belted out some of the words to Britney Spears’ “Womanizer” a few years ago at the grocery store. Kara and I looked at each other mortified, and knew we had to seriously regulate the music our little girl was hearing.
It is not that she is playing these songs herself. They come on the radio and occasionally television. We screen any videos before she sees them, and we learned quickly that most videos aren’t as child-friendly as the ones from Taylor Swift.
On Sunday afternoon I was surfing through the channels while the kids were playing when I came across Lady Gaga’s concert at Madison Square Garden on HBO. The music instantly caught the attentions of my offspring, and my daughter started dancing to the giant monster writhing on the stage. Even my son was dancing as any 20 month old would. Seemed harmless enough. OK, so maybe the sparklers shooting out of Lady Gaga’s breasts should have been a sign to me to keep surfing, but for a moment or two, we watched the show.
Then Lady Gaga started to speak to the crowd, thanking them and then blurted it out. Something about “F—ing Madison Square Garden.” I reached for the remote and suddenly I was on the Discovery Channel or ESPN. I wondered what those sponge brains I am responsible for had taken in.
Listen, I’m not a prude and I know my children will hear the “F” word as they grow up. Classmates with older siblings will be proudly say it at recess thinking they are cool, and a few of my childless relatives will continue to use it without thinking twice as they pass the turkey across the Thanksgiving table .
For the record, I don’t use the word, probably because of my environment. My parents didn’t really swear, it wasn’t allowed in parochial school, and Kara doesn’t say it either. In my professional life, Denise and Al don’t use it and I my old co-anchor Gayle King never said it., and you know what? We never ran out of things to talk about or appropriate words to converse with.
Remember, we work in a newsroom with microphones everywhere and you never know when one is open. Anchors have been disciplined and stations can be fined should the “F” word get on television. I’ve actually been teased by my colleagues for my distaste for the “F” word in the workplace. When someone says it in the confines of WFSB, he or she often looks at me, and says “Sorry, Den.” I used to work with a producer who used the word in virtually every sentence that came out of her mouth, and it always made me flinch. If I ribbed her about it, I was told to “get the f– over it.” She remains a good friend, by the way!
Truth be told, the “F” word can sometimes be funny. The character Ari Gold of “Entourage,” wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining if writers sanitized his lines. One of Kara’s best friends uses the word frequently, and there is something about the way she uses it that makes it hysterical.
And who didn’t think it was funny when gaffe-prone Vice-President Joe Biden unabashedly said to the President, “this is a big f—ing deal,” with a microphone recording it for history.
Speaking of White House recordings, we know with certainty President Lyndon Johnson was a big fan of the “F” word in all of its forms. There are people who will argue perhaps there are times when no synonym will do. Case in point, when Joan Crawford (as portrayed by Faye Dunaway) told the board of Pepsi, “don’t f– with me fellas.”
Back to my daughter and the Gaga vocabulary primer. When I switched off the Monster Ball she said “Daddy, turn that back, I like that.” “Like what?” I asked, hoping she hadn’t absorbed that adjective that had me frantically changing channels. “The song,” she told me with a tinge of sadness in her voice. Whew. She hasn’t asked about the word since….and better yet, hasn’t repeated it.