Why words matter

I remember my father telling me once when I was young that the act of cursing demonstrated poor vocabulary skills as well as a distressing lack of imagination.

Amongst the many parental pronouncements he has made throughout my life, this particular one has stayed with me and I credit it indirectly with blunting a large part of my desire to curse or utter a profanity even to this day though unfortunately, it has never managed to kill it altogether. The kids at Starbucks yesterday, will take full responsibility for accomplishing that.

Picture my afternoon - In order to pick up some shirts I'd left the day before, I pull into a parking space at my local dry cleaners which is next to a Starbucks. Sitting at an outdoor table I observe a gaggle of teenagers doing the teenager-y thing: amplified talking, public ribbing, some awkward-looking flirting is also going on. I notice all of this while I hunt for my claim slip because teenagers fascinate me for the simple reason that I anticipate my son's growth and behavior to run more parallel to what is current now than to the kind of straight-laced upbringing I had. To see how they act is to perhaps see how my own son will act when he gets to be their age.

Claim ticket found I open my door to hear the following attention grabbing exchange:

Boy 1
No way! Gettaoutahere! You A-h_le! F__k you man!

Boy 2

Naw man, f__k you!

At this point a girl puts in her two cents worth (is it really worth even that?)

You sh__t-faced a__s-h___les! F__k you both! S__t! You f___ face! Don't DO that!

She whacks out at Boy 1 who then proceeds to call her a whore.

I could be somewhat wrong in repeating the order of this horrendous exchange for you but unfortunately, I think I got most of it right.

Whisking myself into the dry cleaners, I waited for my shirts and mentally told myself that MY CHILD would never act this way. Five minutes later, my business concluded I step out to this choice bit of words:

Some boy (can't tell if it was 1 or 2)

You're a whore Stephanie and your friend's a whore too!

Stephanie (while laughing)

You wish I was your whore A-h_le! F__k you!

Poor Stephanie, she actually looked like she thought that was a superb comeback.

I really couldn't stand much more of this so I got into the car and jacked up my NPR while I pulled out of the lot.

Later that evening, I remember lying in bed thinking how prescient my father's words to me turned out to be. Poor vocabulary... both in their choice and repetition of words. Lack of imagination... conspicuous for its crudeness, its rudeness, dare I call it... lack of flair?

Today's youth is, amongst other things, in a sorry verbal state. They also seem to be deficient in the self-respect and respect for others department. No one should allow others to denigrate them verbally and I should most definitely not have to be subjected to this kind of language in public while tending to my afternoon errands or otherwise. More importantly, parents should look upon a deterioration of their children's communication skills as a slippery slope. Whatever happened to verbal courtesy and personal manners? Whatever happened to words longer than just four letters? When did children, and in my book teenagers are still children, start referring to each other in such derogatory terms as a matter of routine? Where are the parents to put a stop to this? Are they perhaps setting the example?

I would like to think that the majority of adults do not speak in their homes, amongst themselves, as these children do in public for everyone's non-benefit. Be that as it may, how it all started or developed is moot at this point, how it may end is as clear to me as all the terrible things that happen in this world can seem clear only in hindsight.

When my son grows into a teenager, I will not be there to patrol him always nor on a daily basis. I have no desire to do that anyway. It would be silly to believe that he will never say bad words out loud either. I do hope though that for him, this behavior is the exception rather than the norm. I would hope also that through example, my husband and I would succeed in teaching him that how one greets and talks to other people, especially the ladies, is of extreme importance for reasons other than just observing the niceties. Politeness and courtesy exist for a reason and up to a certain degree, public behavior is very often a mirror of the private life.

In my case, I pride myself upon my meager vocabulary skills and I vouch wholeheartedly for my vivid imagination. My father's teaching has served me well on many an occasion when I've been able to make my displeasure or discomfort known without the use of insults. Perhaps, repeating my father's words will work for my son, the way it did for me. Setting the example however, is foremost in my list of priorities. Guess that means I've uttered my last tarnation!


  1. Heartbreaking isn't it and seems to be pandemic. To me it mirrors a child devoid of nurturing and instruction - the result of turn-key raising and a TV or video game for role modeling. No self respect, no pride. They obviously don't know viable answers, but even more distressing is that they don't even know the questions. No concept of pride or respect, self or otherwise. With your permission, I would like to further explore this on my own blog. Please let me know. Many thanks,

  2. Amen, Sista!

    In my classroom, I have a mini-poster I made that reads, "Profanity is the crutch of the conversational cripple." I put it up when I heard I'd soon be getting a boy who swore like a sailor. The poster was one of the first things he noticed in my room. Maybe it's relevant that he is deaf, but I don't remember hearing him use profanity in my room more than once or twice. Fortunately, I am only mildly disabled in this area. I try to practice what I preach.


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