This is an archived article that was published on in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

My 6-year-old grandson came home from first grade last week and flipped his mom the bird. He said a girl in his class showed him how to make the gesture.

"She said it means a really bad word," Gage said.

Gage's mom admitted it was a bad word, one so awful she never wanted to hear him say it.

"OK, what's the word?" he asked.

His mom refused to tell him. Curiosity piqued, he followed her around demanding to know. When she continued to refuse, he grew increasingly frustrated as he shouted, "But what's the WORD?"

It could be argued (by an idiot) that Gage was driven by propriety; that he only wanted to know so that he wouldn't accidentally say the word at church or in front of his teacher.

My money says it's more likely because he's his grandfather's grandson. He's thinking that if something is so bad that nobody will tell you what it is, there's an excellent chance that it's something useful.

I'm not saying his mother should have told him the word, but the truth is he's going to find out from someone. It ought to be the right person.

My daughter should have been practical (or fed up) enough to tell Gage to go out to the garage and watch Papa when he's trying to fix something.

I have a long history with profanity, beginning well before the advanced age of 6. I learned my first cuss word from my grandfather in his garage. Charlie was a true linguist. Grass still won't grow in the spots where he got mad.

Even so, cussing wasn't tolerated by my parents. In fact, there were a lot of "off-limits" words in our house. All of the George Carlin words, to be sure, but also the "N" word and any derogatory reference to a body part not your own.

The first time the old man heard you say one of those words, you got a warning. The second time was a whack. Thereafter, he'd clamp you in a headlock and cram a handful of laundry detergent in your mouth.

Bad as that sounds, there was much worse. If he heard any of those words pop out of you within earshot of his wife, you'd be picking Rinso out of your teeth in a loose orbit around Jupiter.

Fifty years later, I still struggle with not calling things by their "appropriate" names. But if Gage needs to know what the word is, he probably won't be hearing it from me now.

My wife just handed me my list of 2011 New Year's resolutions. There are 29 items of personal improvement on it.

"Stop cussing" isn't one of them. My wife knows that's too enormous for me to master in one year. So instead she wrote, "No. 19. No cussing in front of the grandkids."

Well, hell. I suppose that if I really work at it, I should be able to put a #&%$! dent in the problem. If not, I'll have to develop a taste for Tide with Bleach.

Robert Kirby can be reached at