Sunday, September 18, 2016

Little pitchers have big ears.

I never really understood the old maxim "Little pitchers have big ears."  I know it means that a person should watch what he or she says around small children. I just don't get what any of it has to do with pitchers. Most maxims or proverbs can be analyzed and made sense of relatively easily. "You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear." You need the proper raw material for a particular end product. "Birds of a feather flock together." People spend time with people who are like themselves. "Beggars can't be choosers."  If you're asking for something from someone else, you get whatever they feel like giving you. Duh. Most are quite self-explanatory. **

Stupidity of a particular maxim aside, a person truly should watch what he or she says around young children.  My Godchildren, Andrew and Camille, ages 23 months and 14 months respectively, have learned a new word (or two new words, depending upon the form you use in writing it): damn it, or the more colloquial dammit. They certainly didn't learn it from me, their Godmother. I can swear right along with the most profane of sailors or truck drivers, but I don't do it in the presence of or within earshot of babies who are learning to talk. No, Andrew and Camille learned this one from their dear mother, whose favorite word up to this week was dammit (or damn it, if you prefer).

Jillian is not the most profane person on the planet. It takes something like a broken bone to elicit in f-bomb from her. I've never heard her call anyone the "b" word, either, nor have I even heard her say shit. Scott, her husband, actually curses far more than she does, but he mixes up his swear words a bit, and he probably doesn't say them right in front of the babies quite so much, either. Jillian just happens to be fond of saying damn it

I told Jillian she should turn on her video camera and try to catch both of them saying the word just to preserve it for posterity. She said she had already done so. It took about five minutes, she said, to get both of them saying it on camera.

Now comes the tough part, which is eradicating the word from the children's vocabulary.  Washing babies' mouths out with soap is no longer kosher if ever it was. Swearing in front of babies aside, Jillian is not an idiot. She knew that overreacting would be the very worst thing to do.  She employs a very proper nanny  who is very sensible as well. They've both been very good at ignoring any use of the word (from the babies; Jillian has stopped saying it).  Jillian is keeping her kids away from anyone except the few adult relatives who can be persuaded to pretend they don't hear anything when either child says damn it.
Jillian says Baby Camille articulates the term with a level of clarity that would make any speech pathologist proud. If the babies are saying it to each other, Jillian or the nanny might try to distract them. If they say it to her , Scott, or the nanny, they are totally ignored no matter what it is they're asking for unless they are choking or in similar distress. 

The nanny says Jillian needs to replace damn it with a harmless term, then act as though she shouldn't have said it, and the babies will pick up on the new term and forget damn it. I suggested Donald Trump. She's considering it. Hillary would work equally well.

I asked Jillian how she survived three years of teaching in Utah County with the tendency to say damn it approximately once every twenty seconds. She says she turned her back to the students and said it under her breath.

My father is a frequent user of profanity, but he didn't exercise his full vocabulary in front of us until we knew what we could and could not say. I doubt he would have said much had we repeated any of his salty terms, but if my mother had learned of it, God only knows what our fate might have been. Matthew and I got our rebellion out of our systems by using poor grammar when our parents could not hear us. Ain't in our household probably would have merited a far more severe reprimand than the f-bomb, anyway. Double negatives, once we were old enough to understand how the English language was supposed to be constructed, would have been considered just about as bad.
My brother for some reason liked to use the term iffen. He must have heard it on a TV show, or maybe Donnie Baker said it on Bob & Tom, because I don't think we ever knew a single person in real life who used that word.

Baby Andrew has his two-year exam and Baby Camille has her fifteen-month exam next month. If Jillian doesn't give me the scoop on whether or not they got through the appointment damn it-free, my uncle, who is their pediatrician, will probably tell me. I'm sure it's a HIPAA violation, but he'll tell me anyway. 

** Idioms, on the other hand, are totally different.  "Pull a rabbit out of a hat," "by the skin of your teeth," "shake a leg," "break a leg," or "shoot from the hip," are far less literal and more perplexing to those learning the English language.


  1. I think if I had children, they would cuss a lot.

    1. If my dad had been our only parent, we would have been world-champion cussers. We probably exited the womb knowing more swear words than the average kid knows at the age of ten.