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On the Weight of Words

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.


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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:


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  • 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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View Comments (5)
  • Our standard is “not nice.” Our list includes and variation of “retarded,” (which really upsets the girl who is QUITE protective of her baby brother), and “gay” when used in a derogatory way (there is not a prohibition on the word in the way there is in a Tennessee classroom, for example.)

    I agree with keeping “smart” though.

  • We weren’t allowed to say “that sucks” unless it was really bad. Then my mom said it deserves a sucks.

    I like that “I can’t” made it too the list.

    “Try” is another word that didn’t go over well as we got older. Trying means you are setting yourself up for failure. Try leaves room for giving up. That can be debated, but going into something with a passive “try” mentality is not good.

    Something else I have started to practice is asking kids about thier favorite book or adventure instead of relating with them on their appearance.

  • In our house ‘stupid’ is a word not to be used! It may not be your choice in tv shows, your favorite game, or ever your first choice in dinner, but it’s not stupid! Just because it’s not what you want doesn’t make it stupid!

    We also don’t say, ‘I won’t be your friend!’ Family is family, you can pick your friends but not your family. Brothers and sisters are built in friends!

  • Wow!! What an eye opener!! We also use Booty, but we say butt also. I wouldn’t have expected to find booty on a bad word list. This really makes me wonder what words I should be steering my 2-1/2 year old away from now so that he doesn’t get in trouble when he starts preschool next year.

  • We have had our own little list of words (many the same as listed above) that developed over time with my 3 step-sons. But my 4 year old daughter is determined to name call or shout expletives one way or the other. She’s learned the list, never says a single word on it, but now she makes up words, or grabs hold of words and makes them her own. She calls her brother a tomato (the latest word choice) when mad at him or just exclaims, “Tomato!” when aggravated. We can add her words to the list, but then she just moves on to new ones. She’s already caught on that the word itself really doesn’t matter, it’s the meaning behind it. Getting her to understand WHY she shouldn’t use words as she does, well… we haven’t been able to get that across to her yet.

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