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Vn111.1 Swears 11/30/77

A few days ago I sat at a terminal with Miriam at the Children’s
Learning Lab. In response to the “login” request, Miriam typed “FUCK”
then turned to me and said, “Look, Daddy, I typed a swear.” I responded
non-committally, “Oh yeah. Why don’t you hit new line and see if it
works?” The response came back, “No such user.” I found it amusing to
think back a few months when I overheard Robby making fun of Miriam
because she spelled the word ‘FUKC’. I continued: “You say that’s a
swear. Can you tell me what a swear is?” Miriam didn’t answer.

This evening Miriam demonstrated for me how good she had become at
doing “Miss Lucy.” This is a chanting game for two with partner hand
clapping a la “Patty-cake, patty-cake.” I had earlier seen some third
grade girls playing this game when I rode on the school bus to visit
with the children. With most of her attention focussed on the quite
complex clapping patterns, Miriam began singing:

Miss Lucy had a steamboat, 
   The steamboat had a bell. 
The steamboat went to Heaven, 
   Miss Lucy went to --
Hello, operator, 
   Give me number nine, 
If you disconnect me, 
   I'll cut off your -- 
Behind the 'frigerator 
   There is some broken glass. 
Miss Lucy sat upon it 
   And cut her big fat -- 
Ask me no more questions, 
   I'll tell you no more lies. 
The boys are in the bathroom 
   Pulling down their -- 
Flies are in the meadow, 
   Bees are in the grass. . .

She then called out, “Robby, what comes next?” I was tempted to tell
her myself. The sense of deja vue was very strong, for the tune was one
I knew as a child with these words:

Lulu had a baby, 
   She named him Tiny Tim.
Put him in the piss pot 
   And learned him how to swim. 
He swam to the bottom, 
   Swam to the top. 
Lulu got excited 
   And grabbed him by his -- 
Cocktail, ginger ale, 
   Five cents a glass. 
If you don't like it, 
   Stuff it up your --
Ask me no questions, 
   I'll tell you no lies. 
If you ever get hit with a bucket of shit, 
   Be sure to close your eyes.

When Robby did not respond to her question, Miriam turned to me and said,
“That song sure has a lot of swears in it, doesn’t it, Daddy?” I agreed.
“Michelle taught you the hand clapping, you said. Is she the only one
who knows all the swears?” Miriam confided to me that really everyone
knew them. I admitted I knew many, possibly some she didn’t know.
Miriam’s curiosity rose. I established my claim by running past her some
gutter Italian I had learned in grade school and a few Spanish phrases
I picked up in the Army. Miriam was impressed. I remember being similarly
impressed myself recently when a friend indulged in some exemplary
Afrikaans. I couldn’t understand or mimic his performance, but it
appeared he was mouthing a string of unimaginably vulgar and insulting
epithets.

Relevance
Songs such as those of Lulu and Miss Lucy obviously are broadly
dispersed and endure in the child culture we all pass through and no
longer attend to. Beyond the fun implicit in violating the petty taboos
against vulgarity, these rhymes engage the children in memorizing chants,
the crucial humor of which is found in the punning of the terminal rhyme.
Children learn the puns first and realize their double meaning after.
For example, Miriam did not appear to understand the pun on ‘BEHIND’ in
the Miss Lucy song.

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