Thursday, October 30, 2008

Graffiti Artist

The other day, Ryan asked me how to spell "ass." Okay, let me back up.

A week ago, we were in the waiting room of the dance studio while Morgan was having her ballet class. One of the other moms was telling a story about how someone wrote a "bad word that means 'butt'" on the wall.

Well, Ryan was naturally intrigued! I mean, who wouldn't be? What was the word? What could it be? Why was it Bad? The mom was visibly embarrassed as it was evident she had forgotten Ryan's presence when she told the story. He kept bugging me about it later, so I told him: Ass.

See, we don't do Bad Words as such around here. There are Rude Words that we only reserve for use at home (or, usually, in the car!). But they are not Bad Words. Well, they weren't Bad until the other day, that is.

So I explained that "ass" is one of those Rude Words. No problem.

But then he asked me how to spell it the other day and I told him. 'Cause you need to know how to spell stuff, right? We then meandered into an interesting discussion about the quirkiness of the English language and talked about "as" and "ass" and other things, too. I was amused by his request, but didn't think too much of it at the time.

Except . . . now the word "ASS" (with the second "S" writtten backwards) has been scrawled on the family room wall above the sofa! The letters are about a foot tall!

Fortunately, it's in pencil, so he'll be able to erase it tomorrow. :o)

I am just DYING with the hilarity of it. I actually noticed it several hours ago, but didn't mention it because I wanted to show it to Brendan (despite the height of the letters, the pencil is so faint that it's not immediately noticeable).

Sometimes when the kids do stuff that they shouldn't, I'm often about 50% amused, 50% upset/annoyed. This time I'm about 95% amused. Although I predict he'll try to blame it on Morgan, who has an alibi--me.

And I was once worried that he might not be inspired to learn to read or write!


Kim said...

First of all: funny!

Second, I hadn't considered the term 'bad words' before. I use it all the time! 'Rude words' is definitely more accurate.

Dana said...

That is funny. My son heard a very not nice word, and it wasn't synonymous for donkey. He didn't seem interested at the time, but later I heard him practicing it in the bath. Over and over, with different inflections, seeming to relish in the feel of the new word and its effect.

I thought we were really in for it, but other than there in the bath, I haven't heard it. Strange they can be at that age.

Deb said...

First: I hope you took photos!

Second: We use exactly the same phraseology, "rude words." It works really, really well. It diminishes the aura around "bad words," makes it more of a choice--am I going to be rude? Well, we aren't rude, so we don't use words that are perceived as rude.

Happy peanut-free Halloween, Jenn!

Bill Brown said...

We use "bad words" but in the sense of "rude words." I don't see the hangup about "bad" or "rude." Isn't being rude bad? I think the important thing to convey is that these are words that we shouldn't call other people because it's rude.

Deb said...

Sometimes, rude words aren't bad, sometimes the situation demands it. My goal is to make my kids aware of when the situation really does demand it, and use them only in those circumstances. That helps make clear the distinction between mildly irritating situations and true evil.

Bill Brown said...

I guess I didn't name the context which I was assuming. We are talking about children (mine specifically are all under 5). I can't think of a situation where being rude isn't being bad. As an adult, I can't think of many more but I'll concede that they're more common.

My kids don't grasp precise nuance all that well at this point. Once they can handle it, I will gladly introduce them to the context surrounding this issue. Until then, they can't call other people "stupid," which is presently the only "bad word" they know.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

That is funny!

I like your term "rude words."
In raising the Boychick, we have discussed how certain words are okay in certain contexts and not in others. The Boychick was fascinated by the word "ass" because it also means "donkey." He was disappointed to learn that given the date of his birth, he was unlikey to get the Haftorah Bilaam, whose mythical ass actually spoke (and not with rude sounds, either).

As his mother, I was grateful. I could only imagine the d'var Torah he could have given. As it was, the Boychick's portion was such that he got to say: "We are the Borg! You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile."

Rational Jenn said...

The reason we use "rude" instead of "bad" is partly because Ryan very much equates "bad" with "evil." So I think it probably depends on the child.

But we also use "rude" partly to diminish what Deb referred to as the "aura." And it's a more accurate adjective, I think. The word is bad--but when a person makes a choice to use it in a rude manner, that choice has certain consequences, usually not-good ones. And I think you're right, too, Deb, about context--sometimes it's okay--no, necessary!--to be rude.

Now I'm not sure Ryan can quite grasp when such a context allows for rudeness--or maybe he can. We've had many discussions about how it's okay to be rude/mean to Bad Guys. (And in this sense, Bad = Evil.) We use this in the context of explaining what to do if someone tried to get him to follow him out of the store, for example. In that situation, be as loud and mean and rude as you can possibly be! But that's not a good way to behave in general and certainly not to one's friends or family. (Protecting the Gift is a great book for explaining dangers to kids without freaking them out or overestimating the likelihood of such dangers.)

Incidentally, we don't restrict the kids from using Rude Words--at home and in the car. I probably should, but do not refrain from using Rude Words myself. Not restricting the use of such words to adults also helps remove some of the aura. The focus is on where and when it's appropriate to use them instead of "That's a Bad Word that you can only say when you're grown up." Which is what I was told when I was a kid.

As a result, you may occasionally hear a "Dammit!" from one of my kids--but it's usually at our house. Sometimes, you just need to say "Dammit!" I've also noticed that my language gets better when I notice the kids saying those Rude Words too often. I really don't want that to become a bad habit, and they ease off the words if we make an effort. So overall, we don't really use too many of those words as a matter of habit. (Or hobbit, if you asked Ryan!)

Gotta go for now, this is an interesting discussion though.

Richard said...


"Boychick"? Now there's a problem in itself. Oh sure, you mean a newly hatched male chicken, don't you!

Better drop that one soon.

In the near future there will be the sudden implementation of "Shemale", and you'll be searching for a psychologist.

Only half joking.

Bill Brown said...

Our daughter was just talking about how it's okay to be rude to Bad Guys also.

We don't allow them to use "bad words" at all because they just aren't able to distinguish the appropriate context. It helps that "stupid" is the only bad word we've designated as such since my wife, a former teacher, has seen the ill effects of rampant "stupid" invectives--heck I can see it in our nephews and their usage of it scandalizes our girls, but they just comfort themselves with "we can't say those words."

I'm not sure what other words you guys are calling "rude" but they're certainly allowed to say "fart," "butt," "underpants," etc. whenever they want. We've told them that we'll tolerate a limited amount of repeated use within a particular time because, realistically, they don't need to say *any* word over and over and over for more than a minute or two. But we've also instructed them that "we don't talk like that" around other people.

They seem to get that distinction.

Rational Jenn said...

Hi Bill! When I'm talking about rude words, I'm thinking damn, shit, and your other 4 letter words. Honestly, I'm not even sure that "ass" as such is a rude word, but it can certainly be used that way.

We don't allow name-calling, and "stupid" certainly falls in that category. But I think that's a somewhat different situation than saying "Shit!" Calling someone a Shithead--definitely wrong because it's mean to call people names--but I wouldn't treat the use of the 4 letter-enhanced mean name any differently than if someone had just called someone "dumb." And it's certainly okay for them to say something (not someone) is stupid.

I grew up in a house with a former Naval officer who cursed profanely and at length. It was (and is) pretty funny. But we, as children, were forbidden to say those words, and as such, there was a certain thrill we'd get when we broke those rules. And boy did we choose to use those words when we KNEW they'd get an impact!

As parents we've chosen not to forbid such words except out in public, which we do ourselves. I don't generally curse at the grocery store. The kids seem to get that context and they're 6.5 and 3.5. I really don't care if they say "shit" at home. I say it sometimes.

But they really don't do it very often--they are more likely to say "oh man!" or "crap" or something else. If we got on them for saying "shit" then that gives that word a certain, well, aura or power to it.

But they are aware that it IS an extremely rude way to say "oh man!"

It's kinda tricky though, making sure people understand such nuances.

Bill Brown said...

That explains it then. They haven't encountered traditional profanity at all so it didn't occur to me that that's what was being discussed. When they do, I'd definitely go the "socially unacceptable" route and combine it with the "there's almost always better words to use" explanation.

I don't curse and I've found that it's been tremendously effective when I have used it. I think I can impart that when it becomes a problem.

Richard said...

I should add:

Profanity is largely a the poor substitute for properly thought out words.

Now, when one's fingers are caught in the closed car door, how lucid can one be expected to be? So, unless that is your situation, profanity really only demonstrates your inability to think and express yourself well.

The British, their shirts starched with concrete, once had a reputation for the art of effective insult. In reference to a post-modern artist:
"I have no wish to know anyone sitting in a sewer and adding to it."

But some Americans do rise to the fore in this area. Gore Vidal described Ronald Reagan as,
"a triumph of the embalmer's art."

I think the human world would be much more fun if insult was well-composed, while profanity was reserved for that misplaced axe-swing that transects one's foot.

Ardsgaine said...

We have definitely had the experience of having to get on to a child while laughing our heads off at what he (or she) did. It's tough. "Okay, that's hilarious, but you're not allowed to do it ever again. BWAHAHAHA!!! No, seriously. I mean it. GIGGLE."