Yosemite Sam

When you grow up in a particular environment, you tend to think of it as the default, but it ain’t necessarily so. Once you realize it doesn’t have to be, you can end up wondering what really is normal – especially if its a topic that people don’t discuss all that much.

One of my boys [ Sam ] developed the ability to curse before he could talk. He sounded a lot like Yosemite Sam: “That dirty perka shorka bat-flattin’ portin’ filabunkabertin’, perkalooma burtin’ dirtin’ boostinattin’ bartin’ anatom, oooooooh!”. He did it when he was really mad. I have no idea who might have set him such a bad example.

Do other toddlers do this?

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44 Responses to Yosemite Sam

  1. Jim says:

    Could it be genes?

  2. Gord Marsden says:

    Why does Tourette’s syndrome seem to access this vocabulary first. Is the wiring closer .
    I have 5 year old grandson that seems to swear a lot . Attention getting right now. Also have a 4 month old grandson who uses intonations of inquiry and humour before laughing. The speech patterns are way before the words . Anyone else notice this

  3. MawBTS says:

    I’m not a linguist, but I’ve heard that “ma/mama” for is ubiquitous for “mother” because bilabials are the first word-like sounds a baby makes, and their mothers think the baby is talking about them. Is this true?

    • You do a good eye-dialect for Yosemite Sam, BTW. There was another cartoon character of our era who spoke similarly. Not Mugsy, he was later. But “gravisational pompous frick-a-frack…” Yeah, the music of cursing without the lyrics. I do think those are separate items.

      I recall a Chomsky-Lite discussion over a decade ago at Language Log which had a few linguists arguing that not one but at least three grammar discs are hard-wired into the human brain, but why one is expressed over the others is unclear. There are two standard SVO or SOV expressions, but sometimes, for obscure reasons, there is a VSO language which, to the toddlers “has a good beat and the kids could dance to it – I gave it a 95” quality. What you are describing is not the same thing, but I think it is a possible analog. You might bring your question there. They have knuckleheads there, but some really thoughtful people as well. You are well positioned to weed through crap.

      • Jonah says:

        “Yeah, the music of cursing without the lyrics.”

        That would explain why there are so many euphemisms for curse words. You can use whatever words you want because it is the music that tells you what is being expressed. When someone says “Consarn it”, you know exactly what they mean even if you’ve never heard the word “consarn” before.

        Same for sexual innuendo. When someone says, with the right intonation, “I see you’re putting a little VARNISH on the old CREDENZA there”, you get a pretty good idea of what’s on their mind.

        The mapping of words to sexual meanings is many, many, many to a few.

    • Sandgroper says:

      Not my daughter. Her first word was “Dad”, clear as a bell, much to my wife’s irritation.

    • spandrell says:

      Yes, pretty much. Mother in old Japanese was “papa”, incidentally. “mamma” means food.

  4. ziel says:

    My little one (girl – now grown up) would say the F-word with astonishing gusto and clarity well before she could say much else – and of course it was terribly funny which would only encourage her more – until she did it loudly in church, requiring an immediate re-assessment of the situation (though that too was – obviously – pretty funny as well.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Let me be clear: Sam cursed without words. it couldn’t be mistaken for anything else, but there were no English words in it. He also knew some tunes, about five, before he could talk.

      • ziel says:

        Oh gotcha – literally like Yosemite Sam. No, have not see that.

      • melendwyr says:

        Was he exposed to old Looney Tunes classics at all? Probably the most likely teacher would have been Yosemite Sam himself; second most likely, someone imitating him. Third most, someone injuring themselves and repressing the swearing around children.

  5. JayMan says:

    According to my mom, my very first word was a Jamaican curse word. My mom said she knew this because my great grandmother summoned her quite emphatically when it happened…

  6. Frau Katze says:

    Weird. I’ve never of something like that before. That’s includes a fair number of toddlers: my own, others in the extended familiar, other parents.

    Could he have heard that type speech on TV and adapted it to his lower toddler vocabulary?

  7. The Z Blog says:

    Perhaps it was just echolalic babbling that reminded you of Yosemite Sam.

  8. Space Ghost says:

    When you grow up in a particular environment, you tend to think of it as the default, but it ain’t necessarily so. Once you realize it doesn’t have to be, you can end up wondering what really is normal – especially if its a topic that people don’t discuss all that much.

    “The truth about the world, he said, is that anything is possible. Had you not seen it all from birth and thereby bled it of its strangeness it would appear to you for what it is, a hat trick in a medicine show, a fevered dream, a trance bepopulate with chimeras having neither analogue nor precedent, an itinerant carnival, a migratory tentshow whose ultimate destination after many a pitch in many a mudded field is unspeakable and calamitous beyond reckoning.

    The universe is no narrow thing and the order within it is not constrained by any latitude in its conception to repeat what exists in one part in any other part. Even in this world more things exist without our knowledge than with it and the order in creation which you see is that which you have put there, like a string in a maze, so that you shall not lose your way. For existence has its own order and that no man’s mind can compass, that mind itself being but a fact among others.”

    • Jim says:

      No, not anything is possible. The universe follows natural laws. If it didn’t, if it were totally random, then biological life would not be possible.

      • melendwyr says:

        More precisely, life does not exist where natural law does not appear to be. Whether the universe actually contains any net order is an open question and likely not determinable; it is necessarily the case that the part of it containing us does.

  9. try talking as quick as possible. you will realize that you are cursing soon. Cursing is the most basic and easiest form of speech apperantly… no wonder kids do it…

  10. Sean says:

    Only unusual because it’s not common for someone to swear around a baby, but someone probably was swearing around him, and he correctly picked up on it being deployed in the context of expressing annoyance or frustration.

  11. Paul Mendez says:

    A related question is why can children make animal sounds before they can talk? Especially animals they have no first-hand contact with?

    A child can answer the question, “what does the cow say?” (Moooo!) long before he can answer the question, “who says ‘Moooo!’?” (A cow.)

  12. Greying Wanderer says:

    MAOA

  13. Notmyname says:

    My first words were my father’s common swear words.

  14. Notmyname says:

    common and very frequent.

  15. dearieme says:

    I found it fascinating to see a toddler construct her own vocabulary. We learned that “some Daddy running” meant a jogger.

  16. cato says:

    I do most of my swearing in foreign languages. Thought my speech was well concealed. But here I am learning that swearing is identifiable, even when not in any known language. Hijo de la gran puche! Explains why the dean gave me a dirty look last week…

  17. dearieme says:

    I used to work for a company where an oral instruction describing something as “forbidden” meant that management really would prefer that you didn’t do it. If they really insisted that you not do it, the expression used was “verboten”.

  18. quaslacrimas says:

    Toddlers babbling at length in some patter that sounds linguistic, with the exact intonation, attitude, and body language you’d expect from someone who was actually telling a story, making a complaint giving a speech (or whatever) is quite common. The specific Yosemite Sam routine is probably more about your toddler’s personality, and the kind of feelings he gets eloquent about.

  19. Sideways says:

    My daughter is 8.5 and I’ve never heard her do that. Of course, my parents never heard me swear until I was 25, and it was hardly the first time for me.

  20. Bruce says:

    Greg,
    I have 7 children and my 6th (a 4 year old boy) drops the F-bomb about 100 times a day. It’s almost always in a stressful situation, usually when one of this older brothers teases or hits him. HIs favorites are “fucking” , “fucker”, and “fuck you.” I have tried sending him to his room (which he hates) and spanking him but nothing seems to stop him. My wife is convinced that my father has Tourette’s (he has a couple of really odd, involuntary motor tics) and that my 4 year old inherited it from him. My 4 year old also screams really loud sometimes when he’s mad and sometimes for no apparent reason. I swear he’s Sam Kinison reincarnated.

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