Philip Pullman’s swearwords are a useful lesson for children
His children’s book La Belle Sauvage has scandalised some with its use of bad language. But learning how and when to curse will enrich young readers’ lives
“Philip Pullman Litters New Children’s Book With Swear Words.” So ran the Daily Mail’s headline introducing pearl-clutching coverage of his bad language in the newly published La Belle Sauvage. Its 500 words of faux outrage (fauxtrage?) over a novel containing the words “bollocks”, “bastards” and “fuck” began with with the stunning news that: “By his own admission, some of [his] fans are as young as seven”, seemingly inviting us to imagine some poor, innocent cherub asking: “Mummy, what is bollocks?”
What’s bollocks is the idea that a seven-year-old doesn’t have a firm grip on at least the rudiments of bad language. This degree of manufactured ire is comical to anyone familiar with the latest research about children and their swearing habits. The vast majority of kids know (and use) taboo language fluently by the time they leave nursery.