What’s in a Word?

Do you ever lay in bed at night, trying to sleep, and suddenly, your mind decides to reach into its dark, hidden stash of almost-forgotten memories to slap you in the face with the most random shit?  I have to believe this happens to other people (it’s what keeps me sane, so don’t pop that balloon, for all our sake).

And by the way, what the hell is up with these nighttime reveries anyway??  It’s your one time to relax and not think. You’re laying there, feeling the hardships of the day seeping out of your overburdened consciousness, and you’re grateful for the quiet … glad to be away from the noise of it all.  Suddenly, your brain is like, NO! You will NOT sleep … you will instead fixate on that irritating commercial jingle you heard in third grade as it plays over and over in your head. Or how about that stupid thing you did at work five years ago? You know what I’m talking about. In the conference room in front of everyone too. That was fun, huh? Or, why does a round pizza come in a square box? Answer that one, smart guy.  Why is it that if someone yells “duck” they are helping you, but if they yell “chicken” they are mocking you? Have they ever even MET a chicken? Those things will tear you up. Tear. You. Up.  Or the old tried and true, are there birds who are afraid of heights? Poor birds.

So. Yeah.

Anyway, I bring all of this up to let you in on the crap question-of-the-night my brain decided to throw at me last night. Perhaps you’ll relate. Perhaps you’ll have an answer. Perhaps you will be kind enough to soothingly touch my arm (figuratively speaking, of course, since we are on the internet and as far as I know, we can’t actually reach out and touch someone … yet) and say, encouragingly, why, no, Wendy, you are not crazy. Not crazy at all. It will all be all right.

Is the plural of a computer mouse, mouse(s) or mice?  The crux of the problem, the answer to which I unwillingly contemplated for hours, is this: grammatically, saying computer mouses just isn’t right and the grammar-fanatic in me fights back against such misuse. But … saying computer mice … well, in a word, drives me flipping insane. It sounds neither right nor logical … just stupid.

Me at Best Buy: “Excuse me clearly overworked sales clerk, but do you have any computer mice?”  I feel as though such a request would be met with disdain if not outright confusion. Oh, of course they would know what I meant, but wonder in awe at my attempt at being “hip.” (On a side note, do we still say hip?)

It took me longer than it should have (4 hours 32 minutes) to figure out an answer to this late-night grammar puzzle. But solve it, I did. Aren’t you proud?

Simply put, I will never ever be in a situation where I have to use the plural of computer mouses  mice  mouses  mice  mouses … aaarrrgghhh!

Southern Drawl

Although she has known me, literally, all her life, apparently I still surprise and amuse my daughter with my speech patterns. Oh, not the cursing, that she just takes in stride. But some of the figures of speech I come out with are simply too much for her to deal with, I guess. Some of this is caused by the fact that I’m old and she’s well…not old, and so many things I say are dated and unknown to her. A few of the phrases I spit out, the non-curse word ones that is, no doubt come from being raised by Appalachian born and bred parents. So I can see why my language choices might be slightly confusing to my daughter who has had a completely different childhood.

It does make for interesting conversation at times. Especially during our road trips, when I shout something particularly wrathful, I feel, at the driver in front of me, yet the effect on the smart-ass sitting in the passenger seat is one of great amusement. Or we’ll be having a perfectly civil conversation and without thinking, I reveal yet another unheard-of gem and the disbelieving eye-rolling begins. Because, you see, it’s not that she thinks I’ve lost my mind, but rather, that I’m an idiot who doesn’t have a keen grasp of my native language.  And really, who can blame her? If I didn’t know better, I’d think some of these phrases are made up as well.

Then of course, out comes the long-winded explanation to prove that no, I haven’t suddenly gone daft, only to be told “that makes absolutely no sense” with that lovely tone of disdain only a teenager can properly produce, to which I respond – with utmost maturity mind you – yeah, well, you don’t know everything and then proceed to stick out my tongue.

Oh yes, good times.

 


While writing this, I could not for the life of me recall all of the phrases I’ve used that have tickled my daughter to no end. However, I did start a list with the few I could remember and will update it on occasion as more spring to mind or mouth.

Piss or get off the pot.

You don’t have the sense God gave a stump.

It’s like trying to herd cats.

I’ve got no dog in this fight.

Lie like a dog – also worded as – lie like a rug.

That dog won’t hunt.

Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.

Dressing up mutton and calling it lamb.

Stop acting ugly.

If I had my druthers.

Rode hard and put up wet.

Hair of the dog.

Shakespearean Swearing

I’m no professor of linguistics, but I do understand that language evolves over time. Pick up a copy of Canterbury Tales or Satyricon and try to tell me you understand every phrase in there. What I didn’t think too much about until recently is that this constant updating, re-purposing, and hijacking of words and phrases applies to cursing, too.

An article I read recently went into great detail about the role that profanity played in the Elizabethan Era. How it was aligned closely with divinity (the word “God” being used in many of the harsher swears of the time) and of course social status.

It’s a very informative read and I got a lot out of it, but the part that really stuck out to me was the very first paragraph which reads:

“In Henry IV, Part One, Shakespeare’s Hotspur turns on his prissy wife: “Heart! You swear like a comfit-maker’s wife. ‘Not you in good sooth!’ and ‘as true as I live!’” Instead Hotspur demanded a good mouth-filling oath. Something like his own “By God’s heart” was more suited to a lady of rank.”

Shakespeare, you know how to write a good story, I’ll give you that. And you’re phenomenal at coming up with new words. But, you’re one sexist bastard. I am more than aware that misogyny isn’t a new trend that just recently popped up, yet that passage by Shakespeare had me shaking my damn head. Leave it to a medieval patriarch to think that his wife needs to improve the language she uses and then offer up suggestions. He’s literally trying to put words in her mouth!

And I’ll admit, I had to look up just what the hell a comfit-maker was because while it sounded familiar, I couldn’t put my finger on it. Turns out that’s just a fancy way of saying candy maker. Back in Shakespeare’s times comfit-makers were the people who made little confections out of dried fruits and nuts that would then be used in desserts… nonpareils, sugar plums, candied almonds, hundreds and thousands (aka sprinkles or jimmies) and the like.

To be honest, being a comfit-maker’s wife doesn’t sound like a bad gig. Sure, if I were living back in the 1600s and was hitched to one of them, I probably wouldn’t be too well off financially. Or socially for that matter. I mean, how much can a bag of candied almonds bring in really? But still, I’d have all the candy I could eat. More importantly, I’d be able to curse however I wanted. Except if it got me sent to the stockades. You gotta watch out for the stockades.

 

stockades

Southern Grammar

While West Virginia isn’t technically “The South”—not at all in the same league as say Mississippi or Alabama—and while I wasn’t raised there, only spent summers in the state visiting grandparents, I somehow managed to absorb some local colloquialisms that my daughter constantly makes fun of me for because they sound so ridiculously Southern. I blame my parents (who are from West Virginia) completely for imprinting them on me. Just so you know that right up front.

Recently I was mad at one of my cats — again. This is not a rare occurrence. If any of you own cats, you’re bound to grit your teeth at something they’ve done on a nearly daily basis. Such is the nature of our fuzzy felines and I do love them even during these trying moments. I think.  Anyway, I was pissed at something one of my cats did and was on the verge of inflicting physical violence. Of course, I can’t swing my cat by the tail or anything like that so I decided to vent my anger through a steady stream of obscenities. One of the things I said in my blinding tirade was, “She makes me so mad I could just SPIT.” I must’ve said it with more vehemence than I realized and put an extra emphasis on the word ‘spit’ because my daughter practically broke down in hysterics. She said I sounded like a southern Moriarty. If any of you watch the excellent new Sherlock series on BBC you’d know just how ridiculous of a concept that is.

Mr. Bean

A couple days ago I had the unfortunate displeasure of conversing with an idiot rep from my abysmal satellite internet provider Wildblue. It was one of these conversations that just kept going round and round without making any headway in resolving my issue. Sometimes I think those calls are psychological experiments on patience and I’m the test subject because no one can be that bad at their job, can they? Exasperated, I hung up the phone and said (I’m sure in a frustrated tone), “Well, she doesn’t have the sense God gave a stump.” I guess my Southern accent (which, again, I shouldn’t even have since I’m not from the South) must have come out in my rage because there was my good ol’ daughter yet again in a fit of laughter at my odd choice of words. “Thanks, I’ll be here all week,” I sneered back at her.

I’m glad she can find my livid outbursts so amusing. One of her all-time favorite Wendy-isms is when I say “Piss or get off the pot” to confused drivers in front of me trying to decide if they want to turn, park, or keep on going. That one puts her in tears as she tries to control her laughter. These are all phrases that she apparently never hears anyone else say, which I find hard to believe. And I guarantee if she spent some time in my parents’ old stomping ground, she’d find that my creative use of words is a lot more common. Unfortunately she hasn’t had the pleasure of West Virginia summers.   So for now, I’m happy to entertain my ever-so-Yankee daughter with my anger induced stand-up routine, much to her delight.

Language Barriers

It’s about time I turn this blog back to another aspect of parenting that I’ve thought a lot about. And, as we’ve already seen in the past, it is quite possible that what I believe to be acceptable might inch me ever closer to the “bad” parent label in the eyes of some.   So…what am I talking about?

Cursing. Cussing. Swearing. Profanities. Obscenities. Bad words. No-nos.  It goes by different names depending on who you are, but you get the gist of it. 

I’ll be upfront and say that, as a parent, I don’t tend to get upset when my kids say something R-rated. Sure, if they turn into George Carlin at the dinner table I’ll tell them that it’s time to dial it down, but only due to the assault on my ears and subsequent headache it gives me.  I can tell when they’re cursing just for the hell heck of it and when that happens it just comes off as tacky. That’s what I really object to, I suppose. Language should be used with beauty at all times and sometimes the right F-bomb really gets the point across. But machine gun spraying the word around for no reason is disrespectful to verbiage itself.  As if I’m one to talk (I can see my family rolling their eyes now)….but we won’t get into that.

I don’t mind them cursing (and for the sake of reminding everyone, my daughter is 14 and my son 21, we’re not talking toddlers here), because, for starters, they’re intelligent kids. I know this. It’s not like they can’t think of a better word or are only capable of lifting expressions from the last Seth Rogen film they saw. No, they have an amazing vocabulary and excellent communication skills — so if they use a curse word, I assume it’s because that’s the best way to represent the feelings they’re trying to express. Fair enough.

Secondly, they’re smart enough to know to calm their tongues way down when around positions of authority (oh wait, isn’t that what a parent is supposed to be…we’ll get back to that another day) and in inappropriate places. My daughter would never give an oral book report on Pride and Prejudice and litter the essay with profanities. Nor would my son ever make liberal use of the word shit in front of his grandparents. They both know where and when…and in front of me, it’s fine. Why?

That brings us to our third point and one that might be most up to debate. To me, curse words are just that…words. The only reason they have power is because people decided they mean something. But they don’t mean much to me. I refuse to recognize the profound implications of a one syllable word.  I understand that not everyone shares these beliefs and I respect that.  I certainly am not spilling offensive remarks all over town unaware of how others perceive the words.  

Showing respect for the “audience” to whom one is speaking is paramount.  I’m just saying that when hit with a cuss word, there really is no effect.  I don’t vibrate with any profound emotion because again…it’s just a word.

Now, that being said, and being of the contradictory nature that I am, there are certain words that are indeed off-limits in my house, even with a free-wheeling parent such as myself.  This isn’t so much because they are curse words as it is because they are derogatory and hateful words.  Indeed, there are some non-curse words that are off-limits in my house for the same reason.

Let’s admit it, sometimes the right curse word in the right situation is the best. Quite often they are the most accurate way to convey a particular emotion (just ask Lewis Black); and why should we limit ourselves by not using what is at our disposal?  The trick to all of it (of course there’s a trick, there’s always a trick) is to know, understand, and respect your audience.  It’s important to have respect for oneself as well.  

As I tell my kids, don’t come off looking stupid just because you think it’s cool to use a curse word when you know very well that a better, more appropriate, word would do — have more respect for yourself. Respect is a great deal more important than freedom of speech.  At least in my house…which, contrary to outward appearances, has never been much of a democracy to begin with.

no cursing