I don’t know when the first time I cussed was. But I remember the first time I got in trouble for cussing.
Some of my earliest memories are of my Mammaw’s house, and few of them are good. My one memory of Mammaw herself is of the time she apparently thought I was sassing her (though I could only have been about 4 or 5 tops, so, not to speak ill of the deceased, but anyone who’s going to get offended by a toddler’s “sass”… I mean, come on) and told me to go get a switch out of the yard so she could give me a whooping for sassing my great grandma. Apparently in Jackson, Tennessee, a switch is a slender branch, but with my suburban upbringing I only knew of one kind of switch and that was a light switch. So when I told her I didn’t know how to get her a switch (certainly not from the yard) and didn’t think it would be very good for whooping anyway, she thought I was just continuing what was by now an all-out crime spree of disrespect to my elders. So she settled for the yard stick and delivered what was undoubtedly the whooping of the century.
That’s not the story. But I think it sets the stage nicely for the environment of the main story. Here’s the cussing one:
My dad’s side of the family was over at Mammaw’s house. We made it out to Jackson most summers when I was a youngin’, so I was fairly comfortable there. There are no video games in Jackson. That’s a fact that still holds true to this day. And Pokemon was from Satan because the pokemon “evolved.” So to keep ourselves entertained, we played Spoons with our cousins.
Now I won’t bore you with the ins and outs of my 6 year-old mind trying to grasp the finer intricacies of Spoons, so suffice it to say that I did not understand what was happening. For this reason I was the cause of a solid three rounds of Spoons going to waste because I straight up didn’t pass the cards or pulled a spoon when I wasn’t supposed to. So on the last round, I was determined to win. Unfortunately I didn’t understand what it actually took to do so. So everyone pulls their spoon and I make it out without one. Come to find out, I’d had 4 jacks since, like, the second pass. And it was explained to me that I could have won. Looking out at the cards and the spoons that had been set back down, I took a spoon, smacked it on the table and declared the D-word.
Not darn. Not dang. The one that sounds like those things beavers build.
The big one.
And every eye in the room turns to me. My aunt and uncle dove to cover the ears of my cousins before rushing them off to bathe them in holy water. My Nana gasped out a “Kevin!” that instantly let me know something was not right. And then she asked me who had taught me that word, and as I began to cry, realizing the magnitude of my verbal crime, it was explained to me that that was a bad word.
That day I learned three things:
1) Don’t play Spoons before your age is in the double digits because it is a legitimate nightmare.
2) Given the options of practically every member in my family, I will be quickest to throw my Pappaw under the bus when it comes to who I claim I heard say a bad word.
3) There are certain words that are bad and should not be said under any circumstances.
And of those three lessons, there’s one that I think that we were all taught at one point or another.
Unfortunately it’s also the most misguided.
As a writer, words matter a whole lot to me. I’ve developed some of my own philosophies about writing just as everyone, knowingly or not, forms their own philosophies about the things they love. And thinking about words and the ways in which they’re used, I want to propose that deciding certain words are “bad words” is something like an immense injustice.
I think a much better idea is that they’re strong words.
Obviously I know we don’t tell that principle to our children when it comes to cussing because they lack the judgement for when a situation warrants truly strong language and expression. We don’t need our kiddos walking around the store cussing us out just because they “feel strongly” about the ice cream we’re refusing to buy for them.
But it staggers me to see how many of us fail to understand that judgement even in maturity. Language is constantly a victim of abuse. We are constantly taking words, strong or otherwise, and bending them to fit our own means. Words with legitimate meaning become watered down or even change entirely to fit the culture that has shown them such little respect.
We have created a culture in which we emphasize the notion that actions speak louder than words. This statement is both true and important. But it also does a lot of harm because there’s an underwritten implication that what you say isn’t as important as what you do; a message that will consistently, if not inevitably, deteriorate into a message that what we say doesn’t matter. Also, it treats our society like it’s not one that is obsessed with communication. What we do is more important than what we say? The majority of what we do is talk!
This principle is a fallacy. If we lean more into one side than the other, we’re going to end up as either a population that says things they don’t believe or does things without knowing why.
Actions are important, but when we get down to it, we’re largely defined by what we say. But so often we don’t even realize what we’re saying and what that means. I’m guilty of this, too. But it’s important to identify that and then desire to change that. To make ourselves more aware.
This post isn’t about the merits or pitfalls of “cuss” words. Hopefully my stance on that has been made fairly clear. The bigger issue is that we run around like 6 year-olds playing spoons, saying words just because we can and because we think we’re using them responsibly.
You probably knew exactly what I was alluding to in the title of this series. F-Bombs aren’t just reserved for the traditional four letter one that earns a movie an R-rating if it’s present twice.
Every word we say has the potential to be a bomb. We need to put power back into what we say and what we mean. So what am I going to talk about over the next 3 or so weeks?
We’re going to talk about homosexuality. We’re going to talk about women. We’re going to talk about America. And we’re going to talk about God. And we’re going to talk about why our words surrounding these things are just as important as the things we claim to believe about them and the things we do.
It’s time to put power back in our words.
It’s time to drop some bombs, and to drop them for the right reasons.
Good times. Heavy stuff in the weeks ahead, but I’m personally pretty pumped. I’ve been thinking a lot about these topics for a while, and I think I’m finally ready to put it out there. So hopefully you’ll want to keep reading as I share some things. I want to make you aware of some steps I’m taking in writing these and invite you to participate as well. Interactive blog? Whoa, Shady, ease up!
Since these topics are so sensitive, I wanted to make sure and not just base what I write off of generalities and stereotypes. So I’m currently conducting a couple “interviews” of sorts for the first word, and am preparing a survey for the second. If you’d like to be involved in the survey (it’ll be anonymous, so no worries), definitely just shoot me a comment on here or facebook or however you want to get a hold of me (there’s also contact info in my “About This Tree” bar up there). The more input, the better. Also, I’d love for this to be a discussion. If we’re going to talk about words, we may as well use our words, too, right? So if you’ve got questions or thoughts, don’t hesitate to, again, leave them here or on my facebook if that’s where you linked to here from.
Additionally, my good friend, Ben Taylor, once again beat me to the punch and wrote a phenomenal piece about the importance of words at his blog over here. He talks a lot about what I just did, but also shares some thoughts about some of the topics I’ll be talking about in the coming weeks. Plus, he’s just a phenomenal writer.
Lastly, I want to address that this isn’t going to be just a “Christian thing.” I’m going to include at the end of each section things specific to a Christian world view, but by and large, these issues are not exclusive to Christianity, so to infuse the rhetoric/dialogue/explanations with things that would be effective in a Christian context would dilute the potency of the message for anyone who is reading from another perspective. That being said, please don’t be tempted to just skip to the end where I put it in a Christian context. These topics are important. You deserve the full story.
Thanks, and I’ll see y’all next week!