What the heck!


That phrase sounds so tame, perhaps even lame. Well, good. That’s my intent. As a parent of two older kids, I gave up cursing a long time ago. My children — a daughter in college and a son who is now driving — think I’m unhip. But I’d rather be uncool than uncouth.


So I quit that type of talk when they were wee ones and haven’t missed it — even when I stub my toe.


Cleaning up my act was easy with newborns. Back then my groggy speech was filled with "Mama" and "Dada" and "peekaboo," rather than slobbering out unchoice words. A bit later, I was too focused on reading ABCs rather than heading farther down the alphabet to WTF and words spelled with double-toothpicks.


At home, I’m famous for my profound lack of profanity. While watching TV together, if a vulgarity crosses the airwaves, my family’s necks crane in perfect choreography to listen as I call out "hey-o," in my personal censorship bleep.


Softer language doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll be meek or get drowned out. For me, the best way to counter that is to calmly move forward, carrying with me a good thesaurus.


Growing up, I had a robust career in the use of foul language, but I prefer my abridged dictionary now. I can be creative; instead of reaching for an easier vernacular, I can toss out surprising, sometimes laughable phrases. Instead of using stronger language, I can ask, "Are you really going to wear that shirt that looks like the cat clawed it up?"


I had die-hard role models in my use of harmless language. My parents were devout users of bland, polite phrases. My dad, who grew up on a Kentucky farm, used words like "dabnabbit" and "dadgummit." In my entire life, I heard my mother curse one time. It still shocks me.


Harsher words — even meant to be lighthearted — can add an edge of anger to a conversation. When my kids were younger, I didn't want to add that sharper element when a situation deserved a lighter response. Say I dropped a plate on the floor and it shattered. I could just lament, "Darn it. Of course, it had to happen when I'm running late," which sounds mildly perturbed. But the tone changes abruptly if I ramp it up, inserting a few crass words. Then, in my mind, I would not be demonstrating coping; I’d be showing that I get riled over small things, so watch out, kids.


I understand these are just syllables that society has deemed to be crude, but some words carry a heftier weight. Other mothers and fathers have their own styles, and mine is "dork" (and the word "dork" is itself dorky). Just like some parents eat steak and play computer games; I'm a vegetarian who plays the piano.


Sometimes, others might think that my ears have become too fragile to hear them curse, but really, I don’t fuss when others cuss. This is just my own quirk, as a big-time square.


Of course, I could just as well keep four-letter tirades to an adult-only crowd, but that's too difficult for me to keep track of. I would not curse around a supervisor or strangers in the grocery store, so I extend that to family and friends. In my world, "holy smokes" and "gosh darn" are the new, radical lingo.


I realize curse words are just part of our culture and everyone is exposed to it anyway, but I want to save my bombshells for true warfare.


Nowadays, with my kids’ personalities well established and, yes, occasional curses slipping from their mouths, they laugh at me. I can take it.


Still, I prefer to show them that language is another way of presenting myself to the world. Why would I wear dirty dungarees? Instead, I can hope to speak with calmness, kindness and humor — all with a squeaky-clean vocabulary.


Why the heck not?