March 30, 2009

Oh My God!

Perhaps you've noticed I say "OMG" a lot. In my head I mostly pronounce it "Oh em gee" or "Ohmg" (like the meditative "om," but with a g-sound at the end). It's a writing thing: I don't say "Oh my god" out loud very often, and when I do I often say "Oh em gee" to show I am aware I am not 16.

I don't allow my kids to say "Oh my god," and it was a little tricky to explain to them WHY. I had to give it some thought.

If we belonged to a religion that had as one of its commandments that we shouldn't use our deity's name frivolously, then I could use that as my reason: it breaks a commandment, it's a sin, so we don't do it. But we DON'T belong to such a religion, so for us it's not commandment-breaking or sinning.

If the expression were "Oh your god," I suppose we'd want to be careful not to say it around people who had a god, in case they winced at someone else breaking the rules of their religion. I wouldn't order pork sausage while out to lunch with someone I knew belonged to a no-pig-eating religion, either, because I wouldn't want to make them wince---even though, of course, there'd be nothing at all wrong with me eating pig, since I don't belong to that religion.

But no, the expression is "Oh my god," so it shouldn't offend anyone else: it's totally clear I'm not talking about their god. At most, they might think, "My goodness, she certainly has a lenient god!"

It's like saying "Oh my stars!" even though we're not referring to any particular stars, and even though we don't personally own any stars, and even though there might be a religion that reveres the stars and doesn't want to speak lightly of them in colloquial expressions. We don't belong to that religion, so we're allowed to say "Oh my stars" without sinning or breaking rules or being disrespectful to someone else's stars. If I were friends with a star-worshiper, I'd avoid the expression, because why create tension when it would be just as easy to substitute the harmless "Oh my god" instead?

Or it's like "Oh my sainted aunt!" You don't have to have an aunt to use that expression, let alone one who's been officially sainted. If you DID have an aunt who was a saint, using the expression wouldn't be saying anything disrespectful about her---but it's possible you'd choose not to say it anyway, just to avoid confusion. (Your sainted aunt: "What?" You: "Oh, no, nothing, Auntie!")

I couldn't use "because it's a swear," either. A swear is a "bad word." A swear is a word like "sh*t" or "f*ck": you can't really say those words in a context where they're not bad words. But "oh" and "my" and "god" are neutral words, and their meaning is derived from context. If you're not using the name of your god frivolously, you're not swearing. In fact, even if you ARE using the name of your god frivolously AND that's against your religion's rules, you're STILL not swearing: you're sinning and/or and you're breaking a commandment, but you're not using bad words. One of the funniest things I've read lately is that Lora's son refers to Jesus as "that guy with a bad word for a name."

So if it's not a religious rule they're breaking, and it's not a swear, why am I telling the kids they can't say it? It's because I think they're too young to use good judgment with that phrase, or to give an explanation for their usage of it if an explanation is demanded of them. Obviously no one should be monitoring someone else's religious compliance, especially if the monitor doesn't even know the monitoree's religious situation, but we all know of people who DO feel the urge to do volunteer police work, and I don't want my children confronted by such people if I can help them avoid it.

I don't let the kids say "crap," either: "crap" isn't a swear, but it's in the Careful Zone. I say "crap" comfortably as a sassy sort of word, but I wouldn't say it in front of my child's teacher, or in front of my grandparents, or in a job interview---unless I was using it deliberately and with some thought behind it and I intended the impact I'd know it would have.

I don't think my kids have that kind of judgment yet. In fact, I am pretty goddamned sure they don't, so what I've told them is that "Oh my god" and "crap" is language they can choose to use or not use when they're older and can weigh the impact of it. Until then, it's "Oh, man!" and "Dang it!"

47 comments:

Misty said...

I steer my kids away from the OMGs as well, mostly because I don't like to her my mom complain.

But my Jelly Bean says, "Oh Yordy!" (just like that), which I think is cute as can be. And while my "religion" is I really don't care what you do as long as it doesn't hurt anyone other than yourself, there is a teeny tiny bitsy part of me that resents having to be careful about not hurting people's feelings regarding their life philosphies when no one seems to share that consideration towards me and mine.

But hey, it is all about being the better person, right? ;)

Shannon said...

I completely agree. 100%. I have the same policy. (shannon@livinginthegray.com)

Misty said...

And obviously a terrible speller...Oh Yordy! Look at the typos!

Mimi said...

There are just some things that don't sound very appealing coming out of a kid's mouth, even though they aren't exactly curse words. When my sibling and I were kids, we weren't allowed to use the word "butt"... we had to say "bottom" instead. It seems silly, but it really does sound more polite coming out of a child's mouth.

cindy said...

I say "Oh my gosh" or "Oh my goodness" instead of "Oh my god" around my kids, even though I'm not normally that reserved. I don't do it for religious reasons, but it's the same principle behind us saying "bottom" instead of "butt" or "toot" instead of "fart". They have a lifetime to use those words; they are so little and cute right now - why taint the cuteness by hearing them say "fart"?
(ha, I said "taint")

Southern jezeBelle said...

i'm an "oh my goodness"-er and an "oh good grief"-er. I'm a Christian so I don't want to say "oh my god" but I will let my other choice swear words fly when with intimate friends.

I just think that oh my goodness or good grief sounds nicer and more polite in any situation so that's what i practice. hopefully by the time i have kids i'll have a good trained mouth. HA HA!

Fiona Picklebottom said...

I don't let my kids say it either; if they do, I correct them with "Oh my gosh!". Oddly, my very religious in-laws say it all the time. I think my main issue with it is that *I* wasn't allowed to say it as a kid, so it sounds bad coming out of my kids' mouths. I also don't say it myself, though I do say other words I wasn't allowed to as a kid, crap being one of them. I don't care if my kids say crap or geez (which I also wasn't allowed to say, as my mom thought it was too close to Jesus and I could never convince her that it was just a combination of gee and whiz and was thus just as innocent as saying "gee whiz" but not as dorky). Anyway, interesting the reasons (or lack thereof) we don't like certain words in our kids' vocab.

Today Wendy said...

I think the issue is really that, in some contexts, it is disrespectful. You're grown up enough to know when and where you won't offend people by saying it, but your kids aren't necessarily there yet, so it is just safer and easier to tell them not to say it.

So I'd go with "It isn't a bad word, but some people would find it rude and upsetting. So it is best to find something different to say."

Best quote from my friend, after her daughter was using the f-word: "But mommy, it's just fuck!"

Kristi said...

I'm with you - we don't say ShutUp in our house either because it's just RUDE!

St said...

Today Wendy, ITA
We are active in (Christian) church and my oldest attends a Christian nursery school. I don't have a problem with oh my god but I do usually wince at Jesus Christ, it's just so PERSONAL, ya know? Anyway, friends still say it around me and it doesn't bug me that they do.
I don't censor myself in front of the kids but they know that I do censor myself in other places. I've never said anything was a "bad word" we call them "grown-up words". As in, "that is a grown-up word so you shouldn't say it until you are older" For us, it's all about respect. I will avoid certain words around certain people out of respect for them and teach my kids to do the same.

Jiff said...

LOL. This cracked me up. I do appreciate that you consider how other people feel when your kids say something other people might find offensive. I am not one of those people. I usually laugh when a kid says something because well...they're kids... and they have usually have NO malicious intent and they just sound funny saying "big" words. (not cuss words...but words or phrases adults tend to use)

Anyway, when I was younger... I just made up my own words. And they were always ridiculous but it always made me laugh. I'm just a dork, I know (and I hope that isn't a bad word..lol)

robyn said...

Our family is not religious, and I've never expressly forbidden my six year old son to say, "Oh my god," but then, he's never really shown an affection for the phrase. Probably because I don't say it much either. I might be a leetle bit uncomfortable if he said it in front of others I knew to be religious, simply because I'd want to be sensitive to the fact that they might find the phrase offensive. I myself am not easily offended, but there are a small number of words/phrases that I really don't want to hear, ever (the dreaded "c-word," for example), and I do appreciate people holding back around me. So I don't mind doing the same.

Just as an aside, I did hear my son say "Sh!t!" the other day, very quietly and without drama, while he was playing alone with a particularly tricky toy. Guess Mommy should be a titch more careful about throwing around her own swears at home.

denese said...

thank you so much for this! i will now refer to it each time my husband and i argue over why our kids should not be allowed to swear until they're old enough. we only have one 7 month old daughter so far but have already gotten into very heated discussions on the subject. he says "they're just words" but as you and i and most other reasonable and logical people know, they are not. i've been trying out swear-replacements. it's not going well, because there's still this part of me who thinks it's SO HILARIOUS to ask the baby things like "did you sh*t your pants?" or "what the f*ck was that noise?" or "why in the g-d hell are you still awake?" she doesn't know it's wrong, but i do.

g~ said...

We censor our children with the thought, "They aren't just words--they're impressions" in mind. Not that we necessarily care what the anonymous stranger thinks about us and our children but we certainly do care about the impressions relatives, teachers, etc have about us.
g~

Alice said...

i grew up in a family where it was not a sin to take the lord's name either, but my mom discouraged the use of "oh my god" (and interestingly, even "bless you" when someone sneezed). i think of it more like *i* obviously am not offended to take my or anyone else's god's name in vain, but other people WOULD be. i don't like to say "fuck" in certain situations because i know it may offend people with sensibilities more delicate than my own; same with religiony phrases.

JackeeG4glamorous said...

This post cracked me up. I love the "Careful Zone", and I've come up with a few things that fit right into that zone.
You are too funny.

Laura said...

Sigh, between this post and Sundry's post about choosing a home based on the school district, I'm being forced to think about things that are going to become exponentially more important once my little 12 week munchkin actually exits my uterus and things get a lot more real. I know this particular issue is going to be a struggle - I swear like a sailor and my fiancee has the sort of grammar that makes me die a little on the inside every time he talks ("he's got" instead of "he has", etc.)

We really need to think about how this stuff is going to sound once we have a little parrot on our hands.

el-e-e said...

JUST this weekend, my 4-y-o decided to see what I'd do if he said "Oh my god" out loud. Perfect timing.

I am 'pretty goddammed sure' (LOL)I haven't said it around him but I know he's heard it on TV. (Bad me, but also bad Cartoon Network!) But your explanation is perfect for those with OR without religious ties to the phrase.

I think I've shared that AJ also thinks "debit" is a bad word. He gets it confused with "dammit" which slips out of my mouth much too frequently. He'll go, "Debit," under his breath, to see if he gets a reaction.

Jeninacide said...

Yeah, I also use O.M.G. a lot and I actually say "oh em gee" instead of the other.. HOWEVER, I started saying "Oh my gob!" in college and it has kinda stuck. I think it's one of those tricky phrases that means the same thing but at least you aren't taking anyone's lord's name in vain.

P.S. I am not religious... but I don't like to offend anyone either. :o)

Linda said...

Just to add a different view, I am a Christian, say "Oh my god" and "Oh my gosh" regularly, and don't mind at all that my almost 5-year-olds say it. If that offends someone, then I guess I just disagree. I would apologize if someone told me they were offended, but otherwise, I don't really care.

Sparkling Cipher said...

This is a tricky one. You can ask 10 people where the line is between okay and offensive and get 10 different answers. My conservative sister gets upset when we say "butt" instead of "bum" in front of her children. I also know people who are highly offended by "fart." Personally, I think "damn" is where a child's vocabulary becomes questionable.

In deference to my nieces, my swearing during their visits is limited to "goodness gracious." It doesn't have the same affect, though.

Hotch Potchery said...

So, then Jesus Christ! is out of the question, I suppose?

Emily R said...

Funny you should mention Oh my stars. My friend and I decided to choose ourselves some lucky stars one day, so we could thank them should the need arise. I had Natalie Portman, Luke Wilson, and Will Smith. I think.

Joanne said...

OMG. I swear a lot around my kids, I have a terrible mouth and am constantly frustrated. I swear, I am MUCH WORSE now than before I had kids. Like, I do subscribe to a religion where you are not supposed to take the Lord's name in vain and I never used to, ever, it was the only swearing I didn't do and now? I am terrible about it. In my (weak) defense, my older son is autistic and I would be thrilled if he would repeat ANYTHING I said, even a swear word and my younger daughter isn't talking yet but I am glad to read this post and be reminded that I should at least have a plan in place, should anyone ever start talking around here. I'm going to start saying "Oh man" and see how that goes. So thanks!

Steph the WonderWorrier said...

I just prefer saying "Oh Em Gee" because I think it's cute and funny, lol.

I grew up in a house where "Oh my God" didn't matter. But at my grandparent's house (paternal, where I live right now when I'm in teacher's college), I don't say it because they're more religious and it seems harsher in their house to say it, LOL. My gran says, "Oh my gull", and always has. LOL.

I like the replacements better than the actual thing; I don't even swear that much these days because I work with such young kids all the time that it's leaving my repetoire!

beckyferris said...

i heart this post. hilarious! "oh my sainted aunt" was the best part.

Beth Fish said...

Another one of your posts which I have bookmarked for use when I have to have this conversation with my children.

Michelle said...

Yep, I'm totally with you. Fortunately, we're stil in the realm where "shut up" is a bad word the wee ones won't say. But I don't like it when they say things like this - because it's an invective. And little kids shouldn't sound like grownup spewing invective.

Heather said...

I go with "oh my gosh" or "oh my goodness". I must say the 'goodness' version a fair bit because my 3 year old nephew whom I spend all day with, says it too and it comes out like this: OH MY DOODNESS! *where dood rhymes with good* Generally though, I just create my own phrases. I often say "HOLY NANNA!"

Bird said...

I'm from New Orleans where $hit is usually OK, so it took me a while to adjust when I lived other places. I call this stuff "borderline words"--crap, suck, screw and the like. Took me a while, but I caught on. These days I like to go with Oh my gosh or Oh my goodness.

Kathy said...

We have "swears" and "grown-up words" too. I think we're going to have to institute a Caution Zone, as well. Brilliant idea and fabulous blog!

Interestingly, my word verification word was "erthect" which sounds like a naughty word, don't you think?

Not Your Aunt Bea said...

We're no where close to having to worry about that, but I agree and am totally stealing it.

Kristin C said...

My 4 yo uses "dang it" frequently. I love that he picks that up versus some other things he might hear... not from me, of course.

Mama said...

I shortened the phrase to "Oh my" which tends to work for me. I have also been known to say "Oh my apple pie!" on occasion but I did teach preschool and elementary school so cutey phrases are sort of built into my system.

My mother was recently in town and said "Holy Moley" so now if you say Holy Moley around LG she will say, "MiMi says that!" She likes to keep us all in check.

I am glad that you have given this so much thought because the world is really lacking in people who are as considerate as you :)

Swati said...

The post and the comments have been very interesting to read. I never ever imagined that saying 'Oh my God!' could be considered offensive in any way whatsoever. Why, though?

As to me, I would use the phrase when things - minor or major - are going wrong; it is something that evokes a sense of exasperation, frustration, weariness and smacking-your-forehead at the same time. Either this, or hindi equivalents.

MaggieO said...

I just love hearing the way you think these things through.

kyooty said...

My mom used to tell me to say "oh my land" cause it wasn't a sin (yep part of that religion) but then I grew up and I type OMFG and OMG and a few others everyonce in a while! it's just letters, and in my head I do replace it with Gosh.
and my "type this?" was godgall! HA

Swistle said...

Swati- I know! I don't really get it either. Especially because I tend to use it like "OMG CUTE BABY!" or "OMG HOW EXCITING!" so obviously it's not negative in any way. My kids, too, who picked it up from a girl on their bus, were saying, "Oh my god that's so cool!" and "Oh my god I love that!" So---clearly not negative, and in fact an enhancer. But there are people who go around calling it "swearing" AND saying you have to capitalize the G in god to show respect. Which, huh? Because if it's a highly negative thing to say, why would they want it to be about their own guy, and why would it be capitalized? It doesn't make sense to me, either.

Lora said...

Thanks for the link!
It's so crazy how much time and effort I put into this whole "what's a swear and what isn't" stuff. Oh My God isn't allowed in my house either, but now I have a kid that runs around saying, "oh my GOSH I SAID GOSH!" and "what the..... I DIDN'T SAY ANYTHING AFTER THE!!"

It's impossible.

Thank you for being there for me with all this and once again, making me feel normal and not neurotic. If there are two of us there must be more, right?!?

Astarte said...

My kids aren't allowed to say that, either, really. I mean, it's such a common phrase that it does slip out every once in awhile, and I don't punish them (or me) when it gets said. I simply tell them that there are adult words and phrases, and kid ones, and since they're kids, they use kid ones. So far, they accept that, which is good, since I do occasionally utter things that probably make a sailor's hair stand on end, but not in front of the kids.

the new girl said...

I remember SO VIVIDLY the day in 8th grade when the priest came to have a SERIOUS talk with us about how saying the words 'Oh my God' was very, very bad.

I avoid it on my blog, not so much in casual conversation. Mostly because on the blog I am not out to offend anyone and in face to face convos, most often the people I'm talking to don't give a whip.

Amanda said...

"we all know of people who DO feel the urge to do volunteer police work"

LOL oh yes we do!

We are also a non-religious famiy and I also don't allow my kids to say Oh My God although I've been known to slip myself. I told them that it's disrespectful to people who do have a deity. They also aren't allowed to say shut up, stupid, fat, and hate.

m said...

I am an awful parent, Brandons first words were
oh shit,

I fail!

misguided mommy said...

dammit that was me up there not M

bluedaisy said...

I am Catholic (so that means I just offended about 900 people, LOL). But I do say "oh my god" usually out of frustration but try hard NOT to say it in front of the kids so they don't pick it up. I also tend to say Oh Sh*t but have changed that to "Aw nut"- it's actually a pretty gratifying phrase to say without resorting to profanity. I think I will go with the "rude" explanation because I think that can make alot of sense even to younger kids.

Sam said...

What about "oh my goodness?"

Kelsey said...

I am particular about the word stupid, because young kids can't differentiate between saying a situation is stupid and saying a person is stupid. I got HUGE flack from a parent once for making her child turn an "I'm with stupid" shirt inside out when he wore it to school. It was first grade and all the kids knew not to use that word.

I mean, it's your business if you want to dress your child that way, but would you send a seven-year-old to school with that shirt on? Think people!

(Now I worry that I've just offended people who would send their kids to school in that shirt. Good gravy!)