The “What the __?!” epidemic

May 9, 2009

in no manual for parenting

I am no Miss Manners, let me just come out and say that. (Although writing Thankyou notes is one of the very few rules I am forcing my kids to follow). I have a potty mouth when the kids are not around, or at least, when I think they cannot hear me (which by the way often backfires… So yes, Bad Mommy. *Slap hand*)

We do say “What the…?!” a lot indeed when we are driving. Every time someone cuts in front of me, I mutter “What the?!” under my breath. So it is definitely my own fault then. Lately though I have been noticing the increasing popularity of kids saying, “WHAT THE?!” Even the very little ones. My own 6 year-old and I have overheard even younger ones mouthing their surprise, discontent, disappointment with this now ubiquitous all-purpose expression.

They say it without reservation. No hand “quotation marks” around the words when they shout it out. No whispering. It has become part of the conversation.

“Hey, kids, come see what I brought home for dessert?”

“WHAT THE?! Oh, thank you! I love it!”

“Why is the room such a mess? Didn’t I just ask you to clean it up?”

“WHAT THE?! I already did it but [the other one] messed it up again!”

“WAHHHHH!”

“WHAT THE?! oh, ha ha. You scared me!”

“WHAT THE?! Mom! My new DSi froze again!”

“What the?!” indeed.

Do the younger children know what usually comes after the THE in adult speech? I surely hope not. I was hoping that they think “WHAT THE?!” is the complete expression in itself. There is nothing that’s supposed to come after it. But then my 6 year-old started saying, “What the BEEP?!”

“What the?!” I thought. *Pull hair*

Thinking back, even Buzz Lightyear in his own first feature-length cartoon after Toy Story says “What the?!” once or twice – I remember that one because we had the VHS tape and watched it many many times. The boys were a bit young to pick up on that then. Now this expression appears just about in every cartoon not targeted towards the very young set. That is, NO, don’t worry, Telletubbies do not say this. In fact, they don’t really say much at all. Nor does SuperWhy, Dora, or Bob the Builder.

But I bet that if you turn on network TV on Saturday morning, also known as “Cartoon all morning so you can relax while your kids sit in front of the TV” Saturday morning, you will hear “WHAT THE?!” more than a few times.

At this juncture, I am ashamed to report, I don’t know how to react when I hear the kids say it since the cartoons that we allow them to watch (e.g. Skunk Fu) use this expression, therefore, they are sanctioned by FCC, ergo, we parents should be ok with it too.

Despite the above complaint about my losing control over the upbringing of my kids, I am no prude. I’ll prove it:

What the f*ck?!

p.s. Turns out the answer is once again, “It’s the economy, stupid!” According to MSNBC report in March 2009, “a foul economy is prompting more outbursts of foul language.” *Scratch head* I didn’t know my kids read our 401K Statements…

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