On the Weight of Words

(For some reason, typing the title of this post now has me singing “ON THE WINGS OF LOOOOVE! ONLY THE TWO OF US, TOGETHER FLYING HIIIIIGHHH..”)

We have a 3.5 year old in our house, and he’s a boy, and we deal with what seems to be a million gender-stereotypical issues (bullying, testosterone, and most recently BEING A BULLY OHMYGAWD), so I had hoped we would somehow skip over the “bad words” issue. But we haven’t. And I really, really suck at “bad words”.

It’s hard because he’s in a daycare for hours a day, and they have their own predetermined list. Obviously, George Carlin’s words are all on there, but so are some that we use at home: “booty”, for example. I hate “butt”, but booty seems okay. We’ve used it since he was a wee one. But at daycare: not cool.

We also have a list at home, but here’s where we’re weird: we don’t say they are BAD WORDS.

Lemme ‘splain. (that’s from the Princess Bride and I use it ALL THE TIME.) When Tony was .. some months old, and Jack was .. eight-ish, Bryan directed a show called Laughter on the 23rd Floor about comedy writers in the 1950s. I know 30Rock has led us to believe that comedy writers don’t use expletives, but Neil Simon had a different opinion. Some married castmates had their son at a rehearsal, and I asked cautiously if they wanted us to curb the F-bombs when their son (around Jack’s age) was in the room. Oh, no, they said, he knows. There’s no bad words. We love words. There are just words that can be used to hurt people. We don’t like to use those words, but they’re not bad.

I LOVED THIS IDEA. I “do” words. It’s a skill and a love of mine. So I don’t like the idea that some words are “bad” or even “off-limits”, but I want the kids to understand the weight of those words. That when used carelessly, they can seriously wound.

I asked on Twitter if you guys had any non-standard “bad words” in your households. Here’s ours:

  • STUPID
  • I DON’T CARE
  • BUT I CAAAAAN’T
  • WHATEVER
  • LIAR
  • SHUT UP

You guys came up some good ones that were really thought provoking. Where I can understand “fat” being a not-nice word, AndreAnna argued that “skinny” is no better. It’s a qualifying label that isn’t healthy. And Melissa said the same thing.. just like we don’t label as “stupid”, she argued we shouldn’t label as “smart” either. (I waffle back and forth on this particular one. We try to avoid telling the kids “you’re so smart!” and instead be more specific and action-oriented .. “you worked really hard on that test!” or the like .. but I also cannot wrap my head around “smart” being a bad label.)

As noted in my list up there, I think words that convey apathy are HORRENDOUS. Growing up, we literally got our allowance docked if we said “I don’t care”. Because we should care. And if we don’t, there are far less pointed ways of conveying that.

Do you guys have any words that are non-standard in your household?

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