Chacos column: What are your 7 Words?
When I hear the word “retarded” I become momentarily unhinged. This isn’t fair to the unsuspecting friend or acquaintance who probably doesn’t understand the depth of their transgression. Consequently, they inevitably receive a mini-diatribe on the history of the word and how it offends an entire swath of individuals who struggle to advocate for themselves. I just can’t help myself.
Other words also make me see red, and I struggle to even put them down in print. I’m surely not alone. For example, many of us shudder when we hear the “n-word” because we know it has derogatory roots. I also become unsettled even when people use the word in efforts to reclaim it. I think the “n-word” just makes me feel ashamed to be white sometimes.
Even after the president of the United States made saying “pussy” the teensiest bit acceptable, most of us still cringe and find it aggressive when we hear it being flippantly used in conversation. I know I wouldn’t want my kids saying that word toward anyone. Ever.
We all have some words that cross personal boundaries making situations fairly uncomfortable or even combative for the person on the other end of the conversation. For example, I can see my dad visibly twitch when he hears me curse at all. When I choose to delicately drop the f-bomb at just the right moment, knowingly using the cream-of-the-crop of all curse words, I brace myself for him to wax-poetic on the etiquette of speech he thinks is more suitable for a woman instead.
Just this past week my kids came home from their outdoor education trip stating triumphantly that their teachers each gave them a “pass” for using a swear word of their choice and at a moment they felt would warrant one. I applauded how these smart teachers demystified vulgar words so they lost all their power. Genius tactic, I reasoned.
Still, if I hear any child anywhere say “shut up” or “stupid,” I want to duct tape their mouth permanently and tell him to stop acting like a little a-hole. I know. I know. I operate using a double-standard.
Now that it’s summertime I shift the rules on vocabulary, bedtimes and boundaries. My tolerance for everything changes slightly, and I slowly start to accept grittier behavior. For example, I test being more authentic with my vocabulary and remove the silly euphemisms in front of my kids. Just try using “gee whiz,” “son of a monkey,” “mothertrucker” and “fudge” when driving along as someone cuts you off the road. I just don’t want to subject my kids growing up thinking I use sub-standard road rage words. I’m from the east coast off I-95, dammit.
Curse words have a time and a place, as does knowing the audience where you can let them fly freely. But there are words that do harm, hurt and damage, and they’re becoming more frequently used. Saying a country is a s***hole is undoubtedly really, really wrong. Beyond the crass language from our head of state, I empathize with the countries that are now overtly made to feel inferior. We know it’s the power and control behind the words that make it all so offensive. I’m obviously not in the least concerned about the actual bad word used.
As for other forbidden words, I find it equally disturbing that the CDC has recommended that a slew of terms be removed from documents. Although this claim is up for debate in some circles, there’s no doubt that the general public has a negative, visceral response to words like “transgender” and “science based.” And we’re surely in deep sh** and completely torched because even the word “diversity” has been reportedly banned.
Andrea Chacos lives in Carbondale, balancing work and happily raising three children with her husband. She strives to dodge curveballs life likes to throw with a bit of passion, humor and some flair.
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