Well Aren’t You The Smart One, or What Makes A Bad Word Bad
A Conversation with Kids
Today in my after school class, one of my kids spilled what I called, “a heck of water” on the floor. As we were cleaning it up, one of my girls, we will call her Gecki, casually asked, “Is that a bad word?” She was of course referring to my use of the word heck.
“Nope,” I answered just as casually, continuing to mop up the water.
“What kind of word is it?” she persisted.
“It is the kind of word some people use so that they don’t use a bad word.” I answered.
This explanation seemed to satisfy her, but I had more to say. I pulled up a chair and sat down to face her–an action which of course caused all the kids near by to want to listen in. “You know how I feel about bad words?” I continued. “I don’t think there are any bad words. Words are just words. What makes a word bad depends on how we use it. What if I had said that it was a hell of a lot of water. That is not bad. I didn’t hurt the water’s feelings. I was just describing how I felt about how much water was spilled. Right?”
A number of embarrassed giggles followed my use of the word hell, but they agree it was not really bad. One of the kids pointed out that people use the word hell in church.
“That’s right,” I agreed. “But what if I had used a really bad word. What if I had just hurt myself, and in reaction I used the word that we sometimes use for going to the bathroom. Is that a bad word? Did I hurt anybody?” They giggled some more, but agreed that it would not really be bad.
“I can give an example,” chimed in Gecki laughing. “I can call myself stupid.”
“That is right,” I agreed. “I hope you never call yourself stupid. But did you know that even nice words can be bad if we use them in a bad way?” They looked a bit uncertain, so I gave them an example. “What if I said to Gecki, ‘Well aren’t you the SMART one?’,” with as much smarmy sarcasm as I could muster.
The kids laughed–even Gecki.
“Was what I said nice?” I asked.
“No,” came a chorus of voices.
“But I didn’t use any bad words; I only used nice words. What made what I said bad?” I asked defending myself.
“You sounded mean,” one kid said.
“Yeah, I did sound mean even though I used only nice words. That is why sometimes when I hear kids use a bad word, but it’s not in a mean or bad way, I don’t say anything. I don’t think words are ever bad by themselves. They are only bad when we use them in a bad way, and almost every word can be use in both a bad or good way.”
“Like the word sorry,” one of the kids added.
“That is right,” I said, delighted to see one of them connecting this talk with one of my many previous impromptu lessons. “Why don’t I like how people sometimes use the word sorry?”
“You say, ‘I don’t believe you’re sorry’,” quoted Gecki.
“And why don’t I believe them?”
I hear my many past lessons in their chorus of answers, “Because they do it again!”, “They got to show you they are sorry.”, “They need to make up for what they did.”, “They got to learn to not do it again.”, “They are just sorry to be caught.”, “They got to be really sorry.”
“Well aren’t you the smart ones; and this time I really mean it. You kids are so smart.”
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