Speed Reads

Late Night Antics

Jimmy Kimmel finds a way to make swearing cute: Foul-mouthed children


Keep in mind that this is from Jimmy Kimmel Live, so we may well be watching paid child actors. But though the idea of asking young children to list all the naughty words they know on national TV may seem shocking, in practice there's something oddly innocent about kids sharing their knowledge of language's forbidden fruits, right?

Actually, kids swear like sailors, but usually only among their own age group. Just like parents. And grandparents. In 2004, This American Life spoke with psychology professor and academic cursing expert Timothy Jay. He told host Ira Glass this:

I've done a number of studies over the years where we've gone into daycares, and we've collected what kids say to each other, kind of unobtrusively. I've also had informants go who worked in summer camps.... And by and large, every normal kid knows how to swear. As soon as kids learn how to talk— we've got 2-year-olds in our sample saying four-letter words. And a lot of times, they don't know what they're saying. But they are repeating what their parents and siblings say. [This American Life]

The segment gets more interesting as they talk to children, some of whom don't want to teach their parents bad words. The pertinent part starts at the 6:24 mark. --Peter Weber