Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Flippin' Words

I was originally going to write this week about the words we use for sexual organs and activities, but since I owe Gina Chen over at the Syracuse Post-Standard a plug for her Family Life blog in return for the one she gave me this past week, I think I'll delay that discussion a bit. But I do still want to talk about words. In this case it's substitute words.

I've been thinking about this ever since I got in trouble for sending a post card home from Camp Ken-Etiwa-Pec in northwestern New Jersey, complaining about the food there. It wasn't the complaint that was the problem, after all, everyone complains about camp food, it was the way I did it. Thinking I was being witty with the camp's initials, the card I sent home said:
K-E-P stands for Krappy Eating Place.
My mother let me know, when I got home, that she wasn't happy with that, because "krap" (or "crap" as it's usually spelled) meant the "s-word."

This immediately got me to wondering. After all, there were a lot of words that meant the same thing as the "s-word;" from the scientific "feces" to the juvenile "doo-doo." I later found out that the Yiddish "dreck" is another term for that, and "bupkis," which most of us translate as "nothing" or "less than nothing" literally means "goat excrement." I wondered where the line was between which words were acceptable and which ones weren't, but was smart enough not to ask my mother that question. At least not at that particular moment.

But I've wondered about this, and other words, for years. Actually, I've wondered about what I call the substitute words, especially coming from kids. We have no problem when a kid says "darn" or "drat," even though, whether they know it or not, we adults know that those words are "polite" substitutes for the stronger "damn." Same thing with "heck." Even though we know it's a substitute for "hell," we tend not to give kids grief over saying it - especially since you can almost imagine Sheriff Andy Taylor saying "Aw heck, Barney, I told you to keep that bullet in your pocket."

And speaking of Barney and his bullet, I often heard my mother use the word "shoot" when she was frustrated. It was a few years after the postcard incident that I realized that that was another substitute word. Hmm...

But for some reason, despite the fact that we all use substitute words, a lot of us are still uncomfortable with kids saying "crap" as a substitute for the "s-word" and even more uncomfortable with "freaking" or "flipping" as substitutes for the "f-word."

But gosh darn it, "flipping" has a long and respectable history of use from the comic strip Andy Capp, which I read as a kid. So there's no freaking way I'll give any kid grief for saying that.

But shouldn't they be able to express themselves better, without having to resort to these words? I don't know. I think that we all need them at times. We all need words that are escape valves for our frustration. Why shouldn't kids have some too? And sometimes expressing yourself in a "better" way still alludes to the original term that we were all trying to avoid. For example, when I tell someone that I think they need a laxative, a smart person will realize that I'm saying that they're full of...crap.

Well, shoot, I say it's time to cut the crap and let 'em have their freaking substitutes!

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