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Innocent Swearing

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Mrs. Read: Well, you're off the hook this time because you didn't know what you were saying. But I hope you know now that swear words are not appropriate things to say, especially for three and four year old children.
D.W.: Why?
Mrs. Read: Because most people are offended by them. It's as simple as that.
D.W.: But why? What do they mean?
Mrs. Read: I guess you could say they mean "I want to hurt your feelings".
Arthur, from the end of the episode "Bleep"

When someone uses a naughty word without realizing it's a naughty word. Quite often, the person (almost always a child) will get into a lot of trouble for using such a bad word without knowing the meaning of the word or what he or she has done wrong.

Related to Entendre Failure. Can lead to a Swear Word Plot about how the word is offensive and shouldn't be used. Compare Fee Fi Faux Pas. Truth in Television for kids who are very young or very sheltered. See also Fowl-Mouthed Parrot if the one doing the swearing is an animal.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • In episode 20 of Persona 4: The Animation, Nanako happily announces to the group that the fortune teller at the cultural festival told her that Yu was a "gigolo" (translated as "man-whore" in the dub). The teller is Margaret, though Yu and the audience only know that by her voice.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion has a stark, morbid example. A very young Rei Ayanami calls Naoko Akagi a "hag"; while shocked, Naoko takes it softly and gently discourages her from using the word. Again, though, Rei insists that she is a "hag", sincerely and flatly. Naoko, now starting to get angry, warns her that she intends to spank her and tell Gendo. Rei asks her why she would tell him, when he is the one who refers to Naoko (his lover) as this, quoting him as saying "'That hag is useless'... 'That hag is unwanted'... 'That hag'". Naoko snaps and strangles her to death, and then either kills herself or is murdered shortly thereafter.
  • The English dub of the Ojamajo Doremi episode "Majorika Goes To Kindergarten" has Caitlyn's mother react in shock when she accuses her sister Dorie of carousing, immediately causing her to question where she learned such a word.

    Comic Strips 
  • The Family Circus had this with Jeffy, who got spanked.
  • For Better or for Worse had an example involving April.
  • One storyline in FoxTrot has Paige watching Jerzy Spaniel while babysitting. Of course, the kid hears the word and starts repeating it. In the epilogue, Paige reports that the mother said kids always hear bad words and repeat them, but if you don't use them often or attach special significance to them, they'll eventually drop it. Then they discussed watching Jerzy Spaniel while babysitting...
  • A storyline in Baby Blues had infant Wren naming her stuffed puppy a curse word (censored with Symbol Swearing). Her parents calmly explain to her that she can't call her puppy that, so she gives it a different name... a DIFFERENT curse word that was presumably even worse.
  • In one storyline Marvin learned a swear word, represented by him yelling "Censored!" He figured it meant "mommy", as every time he said it she'd run over urgently.

    Fan Works 
  • In Do You Believe In Fairies?, the cute and innocent Harvest Sprite Finn repeats back Evelyn's cursing at her. She quickly notes not to curse around him:
    Evelyn: "Wow, my delusions of grandeur aren’t even original. A Chosen One? What am I, Harry fucking Potter?”
    Finn: "What’s a hairy fucking potter?”
    Evelyn: "Okay, no cursing in front of the adorably innocent fairy hallucination. I feel like a Mom all of a sudden.”

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Donnie Darko: "What's a fuckass?"
  • From Blast from the Past:
    Calvin: It's still not safe to go up. We're going to have to wait twenty-four hours.
    Helen: Oh, shit!
    [Helen immediately covers her mouth]
    Calvin: Excuse your mother's French, son.
    Adam: "Shit" is French?
    Calvin: Its... uh... a colloquialism meaning... roughly... good.
    Adam: Well then.... Shit!
    Calvin and Helen: Heh heh. [sigh]
  • From Meet The Fockers, Little Jack's first word is "asshole".
  • The Pursuit of Happyness
    Chris: The sign is spelled happiness with an H-A-P-P-Y instead of H-A-P-P-I.
    Chris Jr.: Is fuck spelled right?
    Chris: Well, yes, but you shouldn't use that word, it's a word grownups use when they're angry.
  • Coming to America, Akeem, an African prince who comes to live in New York thinks that "fuck you" is greeting.
    Akeem: (standing on a balcony) Good morning, my neighbors!
    Man: Hey, fuck you!
    Akeem: (joyfully) YES, YES! FUCK YOU TOO!
    • "What does dumbfuck mean?"
  • From Mrs. Doubtfire, "We're his goddamn kids too."
  • Towards the end of We Bought a Zoo, little Rosie informs a USDA inspector visiting the eponymous zoo that everyone has said that he was "a dick." She admits that she doesn't know what it means.
  • Coal Miner's Daughter: When Doolittle and Loretta Lynn are buying baloney at a store, Doo says that baloney makes you horny. Supremely innocent Loretta asks what "horny" means, whereupon Doo cackles with laughter and picks her up. Unfortunately Loretta takes this to mean that "horny" means having fun and making mischief ("cutting up"), so when she's interviewed on the radio she starts talking about how baloney makes her husband horny, much to Doo's horror.
  • Big Daddy has Julian's "The goddamn Jets."
  • In Avengers: Endgame, Tony's reaction to the fact that he's discovered a plausible means of Time Travel is to fall back in his chair and say "Shit!" Then he hears his four year-old daughter Morgan, who's sitting behind him on the stairs, repeat the same thing.
    Tony: (makes a shushing motion and whispers) What are you doing up, little miss?
    Morgan: (smiles) Shit.
  • In TAU, the titular AI computer provides an example when it turns out he has not been programmed to know the F-word:
    TAU: Why do you not know everything?
    Julia: Because I am not a fucking scholar.
    TAU: What is a Fucking Scholar?
    Julia: (Gets the giggles, to TAU's bewilderment)
  • A rare non-verbal example involving a grown adult in Bean: Mr. Bean, for reasons known only to the almighty, doesn't know that flipping someone the middle finger is an obscene gesture and thinks it's an American gesture for "goodbye" after some random street toughs flip him off midway through the movie. So the host family he's staying with over the course of the film are somewhat off-put when he says goodbye by flipping them off as he leaves.

  • "When I was very young, my mother always said "pardon my French" when she swore. So you can imagine the reaction of the teacher in my first French lesson after she asked if we knew any French."

  • The novel My Best Fiend had one chapter where the headmistress was cracking down on swearing at the school. When the main character's friend fell and got a nasty gash on her leg, and all the other kids were crowding round, she shouted "She can't move her bloody leg!" A variant, since she did know "bloody" was a swear, but that wasn't what she meant; she meant the leg was covered in blood. She explained this to the headmistress, who agreed that it was a shame perfectly good words became swears.
  • Famous Victorian poet Robert Browning used the word "twat" in Pippa Passes. Browning was under the mistaken impression that "twat" meant a part of a nun's habit.
    • It's sometimes mistaken for an example of Have a Gay Old Time. Weirdly, it isn't- everyone but Browning was using it in exactly the same way as now.
  • Two-year-old Friday Next in Something Rotten learns naughty words (notably "bum", "bubbies", "arse" and "pikestaff" rendered in an Old English font) from St. Zvlkx. Thursday speaks as if she isn't certain what he said the first time he uses them, but the second time she tells her son, "If those are rude Old English words, St. Zvlkx is in a lot of trouble—and so are you, my little fellow."
  • In The Jungle, little Antanas learns "God damn" and starts repeating it after his father reacts to his saying it with laughter.
  • In Thud!, Sam Vimes reads his son his own version of Where's My Cow? with the catch phrases of prominent Ankh-Morporkians instead of animal noises, including Foul Old Ron's "Bugrit! Millenium hand and shrimp!" The next day Young Sam announced "Buglit!" to his nanny, and from then on Vimes sticks to the written version.
  • In one of the Emil of Lönneberga stories by Astrid Lindgren, Emil decides to teach his little sister Ida all the words he gets chastized for saying, and telling her she must not ever use these words. He is quite honest in his intentions, he's just become victim to some Insane Troll Logic.
  • In The Shining, when five-year-old Danny and his mother, Wendy talk about the family car:
    Danny: Do you think the bug will break down?
    Wendy: No, I don't think so.
    Danny: Dad said it might. He said the fuel pump was all shot to shit.
    Wendy: Don't say that, Danny.
    Danny: [surprised] Fuel pump?
  • In On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King recalls that when he was a child, he thought that "bitch" meant "an extremely tall woman" ("A son of a bitch was apt to be a basketball player!").
  • From a Star Wars EU story: "Daddy, what's kriffing?"
  • In The Mallorean, Belgarath mentions the name "Zandramas" to the leader of the Ulgos—only to learn that it is an absolutely horrific word in their language.
  • In the American edition of Life, the Universe and Everything,note  the word "Belgium" is the vilest profanity imaginable on every planet except Earth (and thus can only be used in serious screenplays). Arthur Dent is not aware of this, being from Earth, and so he repeats the word in conversation.

    Live-Action TV 
  • At the climax of the first season of Between the Lines, the main villain becomes tangled up in a group of schoolchildren while trying to flee the heroes. As he tries to push the kids out of the way, one of them can clearly be heard to say (probably unscripted) "you dirty bastard!".
  • An episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show revolves around Richie learning several swear words from another kid he made friends with at school. The episode ends with Rob and Laura confronting the boy's parents about what he's been saying, only to find that they wanted to talk to Rob and Laura because their son was disturbed about some things Richie had been saying as well.
  • In the Good Luck Charlie episode "Teddy on Ice", little Charlie says a naughty word, which lands her in time-out. Her parents, Bob and Amy, spend the episode trying to (unsuccessfully) figure out who taught Charlie the word. Finally, while driving, Amy is cut off and shouts the bad word (over her car horn), revealing herself to be the culprit and winding up in time-out at the end.
  • In an episode of Growing Pains, Chrissy, then a toddler, repeatedly says a curse word, signaled by a "Cuckoo!" sound.
  • How I Met Your Mother: While discussing the Attention Whore lead singer of The Mother's band Marshall offers to yell insulting things like "the lead singer sucks skunk junk!" during a peformance. Cue Marshall's infant son Marvin, who was sitting behind him, repeating "skunk junk" as his first words. Marshall and The Mother look around in horror and hurriedly agree that if anyone asks they'll claim his first word was actually "Mommy".
  • One challenge of Impractical Jokers involved the guys working with a kid, Luke, who closed out the explanation of the challenge with "Let's do this, bitches!" (Cue the guys falling apart).
  • In Little House on the Prairie, the Ingalls briefly move to the city and get a house near the local bar. This leads to the youngest daughter Carrie exclaiming "Damn!" at the dinner table. Pa reprimands her and tells her to ask him about unfamiliar words before using them in the future.
  • In Outnumbered episode "The School Run", six-year-old Karen asks her father, Pete, about some words she overheard:
    Karen: What's a twat? [Pete looks at her surprised] Twat.
    Pete: It's not a very nice word for children to use. Where did you hear that — you've been watching Trisha or something?
    Karen: No, last night when you were arguing with Mum.
    Pete: Well, mummies and daddies do argue sometimes, don't they? You shout sometimes, don't you? Did you... did you hear any other words?
    Karen: There were some other words that I heard but I just can't remember them.
    Pete: Good.
    Karen: Something about midlife. Something about... pillock, and there's pillock and another word. I think it's ponk. And there was one and it was tight-bum.
    Pete: Right, well, probably best not to use those too often.
  • The Japanese version of Romper Room had an unintentional example that is a well-known urban legend. There are rumors of an episode where Miss Midori, the Japanese localization's hostess, asked the children if they know any words beginning with "ki", and a boy responded with "I know: kintama!", which is Japanese slang for testicles. Miss Midori then asked the boy if he could think of anything more kireina ("nice" in Japanese), prompting the boy to respond with "Kireina kintama!" ("Nice nuts!"). The boy was then replaced with a teddy bear after a commercial break.

  • In the song "Watching You" by Rodney Atkins, the singer mentions a time when his four year old said "shit" in front of him. His son mentioned learning it from him.

    Puppet Shows 
  • Dinosaurs has one episode where Baby learned one such word, "smoo". (In the dinosaur lingo, this is a dirty word because it describes debris that accumulates on the sole of a dinosaur's foot. It's also a slang term for the vulva.)
  • In Wimzie's House, this is done with the word "stupid" with one cent going into a "charity cup" each time it's said. Only Wimzie's little brother Bo is exempt because A.) He's only 1 1/2 and B.) He doesn't have any money. See more examples under Western Animation below.
    Video Games 
  • Alter Ego: During the Childhood chapter, you hear your dad cussing out the lawnmower. You can mimic him, naming your toy lawnmower $@*%#.

    Web Comics 
  • You Damn Kid:
    • At one point it recounts an incident with the author's little sister who asked him who Sunsub is and why he itches when something bad happens. Things didn't click for him until at the dinner table when, after his dad tells a story, the sister shouts, "Sunsub itches!" (say it out loud if you haven't figured it out).
    • And similarly to the Blast from the Past example, The Kid wonders what "Sportin' wood" and "Pitchin' a tent" mean, and one of the older kids tells him it's when you get excited. Cue his parents asking if he's excited to see a movie, and he blurts out - "Am I!? I'm sportin' wood!" Cue Spit Take from dad.
  • Questionable Content has a twist on this one. After Pintsize tells Hannelore that robot swear words come from mashing on the keyboard, she asks him and Winslow what "qwerty" means. They're shocked.
  • In Moon Over June, little June Akagawa's first words are "cunt", and then "cunt fuck shit" (on one of the few remotely SFW pages in the entire series).
  • This exchange from Homestuck Act 6:
    GT: The last thing i need on my bday is another installment of and i quote manbro bukkake theater.
    TT: You still don't actually know what that means, do you.
    GT: Not really? It's your friggin figure of speech man. I gathered it just meant getting slimed like in Ghostbusters or somesuch.
    TT: Kind of. I told you to look it up.
    GT: Yeah yeah. Im a busy fella dirk!

    Web Original 
  • YouTube has plenty of examples of toddlers mispronouncing words. For example, "dump truck" becomes dumbfuck, "vacuum" becomes fuck you, and "frog" is fuck. Some adults in the videos exploit this: "Say 'awww, truck'."
  • Sam & Mickey's Dreamhouse Dinners episode #3 has Barbie recall that Baby Krissy once attempted to say, "duck", but it sounded more like an F-bomb. Krissy does this again at the end of the video.

    Western Animation 
  • Arthur: In "Bleep", DW hears a bad word and wants to know what it means. (She doesn't know at all that it's a bad word.) She accidentally gets her entire preschool class saying it. The Tibble twins tell her it's a hypnosis word, and saying it will make adults follow their orders. Her mother finally tells her that it means that someone wants to hurt your feelings.
  • In The Powerpuff Girls episode "Curses", Bubbles overhears Professor Utonium using a naughty word. She later says it in front of her sisters and they start using it themselves. Many Sound Effect Bleeps ensue. In a subversion, eventually they do understand it's wrong but at the end of the episode Buttercup openly swears with clear intent, which sees her mouth washed out with soap in the closing sequence.
  • An episode of Rugrats entitled "Word Of The Day" had Angelica audition for a children's show. While backstage she overheard a Depraved Kids' Show Host state, rather sarcastically, that the "real" catchphrase of the show is that the children who watch it "are all little (censored by outside noise)." Angelica, being three, thinks this is sincere. Hilarity Ensues.
  • In the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Sailor Mouth", SpongeBob and Patrick read a bad word (heard as a dolphin chirp) written in a trash bin and start using it. Patrick claims it's a "sentence enhancer". Later Mr. Krabs ends up launching into a whole tirade of every one in the book, which even makes SpongeBob aghast.
  • The Simpsons:
    • After overhearing Homer one day, one of the Flanders children swears twice at the dinner table ("Hell, no!" and "I don't want any damn vegetables.") The humor turns heartbreaking after he is scolded and runs from the room crying, not understanding what he has done wrong.
    • In a different episode: Moe has turned his tavern into a family restaurant and has worked himself near to the Rage Breaking Point. And then one little girl complains that her soda is too cold, causing Moe to erupt into a sanitized-for-primetime Cluster F-Bomb, ending with:
      Moe: And I'll tell you where you can stick your freakin' sodie too!
      [crowd gasps]
      Todd Flanders: Ow, my freakin' ears!
      [crowd gasps again]
  • Seen in a story from the Franklin television series. The word in question? "Stupid". The moral of the episode was that the words you use say a lot about you, and it actually works fairly well if you can get past your knee-jerk reaction to the idea of "stupid" as a swear word. (It's credible too, since the writing on the show is monitored carefully for the language they use, and normally they don't use "stupid").
  • Done on the PBS Kids version of The Berenstain Bears with Sister Bear and her friend Lizzie using the word "furball" after watching a video that belonged to the latter's brother - Trouble at Big Bear High. Apparently this is highly offensive to anthropomorphic bears. The book that inspired this episode never said exactly what word Sister learned and repeated from the video, just that it sounded offensive.
  • "Dingle-Dangle-Doodle" in Rolie Polie Olie. The title is the bad word in question.
  • In one episode of Baby Looney Tunes, Daffy learns a swear word from a passing garbage man. He later tells the other Tunes about it.
  • Implied on the Goofy short "Fathers Are People". A photo on Goof Jr.'s baby album marked "Baby's First Word" is of Goofy washing his mouth with soap.
  • In The Loud House episode "Potty Mouth," the siblings get scared that they accidentally taught their one year old sister how to say "damn it." It turns out Lily is instead mispronouncing "donut" because she saw donuts in a TV show the girls wanted to watch, though she does curse at the end of the episode when the family dog steals her donut. Interestingly, most of the siblings (the second youngest child is four) are all shown cursing without it being depicted as this. They all know exactly how to use the word.
  • Yoko! Jakamoko! Toto!: In an episode aptly titled "The Bad Word", Toto goes around spouting "tig-a-boo-boo", which is apparently a curse word in this universe, a phrase he learned from a group of mean apes. He ends up alienating everybody, until he finally gets the courage to say sorry.
  • An episode of Caillou did this with the word "stupid", which Caillou learns when he learns how to ride a skateboard from an older boy. After doing so, he uses the word at Clementine when she says he didn't actually skateboard by himself, which makes her upset. Caillou doesn't know why the word is bad until his mom gets a call from Clementine saying that it hurt her feelings.
  • The Fairly OddParents episode "MicroPhony" ends with Vicky yelling the word "moron" on the radio, with Timmy telling her it's illegal to say that word on the radio.


Video Example(s):


Todd Flanders's Innocent Swearing

Well to be fair, this IS Ned Flanders and his son we're talking about.

How well does it match the trope?

4.67 (9 votes)

Example of:

Main / InnocentSwearing

Media sources:

Main / InnocentSwearing