Tuesday, February 3, 2009

naughty words

Words. Nothing but bunches of letters put together in different orders, but our brains learn to decipher them and interpret them to have meaning, and different meanings for different contexts.

So it's okay to speak of those who are going to hell as "damned." And the creature that Mary supposedly rode to Bethlehem was an "ass." And a female dog is a "bitch." There's nothing inherently wrong with words.

So why do good little Christian children fear certain words? We're only told that we're not supposed to say certain things; that certain combinations of letters are inherently evil. As we grow older, I think most of us either simply decide to rebel, decide it's not that big of a deal, or maintain that restraint for fear of offending someone (or our own consciences).

I had dinner last week with my pastor's family. They have four small children who are wild and crazy as any children should be at that age, and were showing me the latest dance moves that they had dreamed up. I was laughing and remarking at them... until I saw the youngest girl lean over to her dad and tell him that I'd said a bad word. I don't know what it was that I said... thought it might have been "Dang!" at the time, but when I asked Matt about it after the kids had gone to bed, he said it could have been something like, "Man!" As in, "Man, that's so cool!"

"Man" is not a word I'd ever heard to be ranked as a bad word before, so obviously I thought his explanation was blogworthy. They don't teach their kids that certain words are bad words in and of themselves. They tell them that words used in anger or rebellion are bad. So in the sentence, "Aw man, do I have to?" "man" is a word that reveals a bad attitude. Now, will a four year old understand that distinction? Obviously not, at least not entirely, because I didn't say it in that context and she still interpreted it as a bad word. But the rule came with a teaching; it wasn't just a blanket, "You need to use a different word, honey." I thought that was really cool.

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