The ‘S’ Word

My daughter Bea came home from kindergarten and told me, “Michelle said a bad word at school today.”

“I bet that was a surprise,” I said.  “Which one?”

“The ‘S’ word.”

“Ohhhh.”  Subject matter we don’t want our kids learning in school.  “Do you know what it means?” I asked.

My five year old flashed me an I-wasn’t-born-yesterday look, and said, “It means stupid.”

Okay, here I heaved a mental sigh of relief, and exercised my Superpower Poker Face to keep from laughing aloud.  “Do the kids say any other bad words?”

Bea nodded and solemnly said, “The ‘H’ word.”

“Help me remember what that stands for.”

“Hate,” she told me.

I was a storyteller long before I had kids, and I understood the power of words.  That didn’t prevent me from indulging in some colorful language, mostly offstage.  But the moment my firstborn saw the light of day, I cleaned up my vocabulary.  The toads and snakes falling from my lips didn’t suddenly become rubies and pearls.  But just as a parent sees the world anew through her children’s eyes, I also began to hear the language through their innocent ears.  I became aware of words loaded with negativity that seeped into the consciousness like toxins into groundwater.  As with TV violence or antibiotics, it either takes more and more to shock you, or you develop immunity.

It was a shock the first time I heard my little innocents use the word ‘hate.’  I had to explain that some words aren’t naughty but are powerful, and should be saved for emergencies or they lose their power.  Hate was one of those words.  Stupid was another word used too often and too lightly.   Words have the power to harm or to heal, and good words cost no more than bad.  At our house, people were always encouraged to speak their minds, while using language constructively, not to hurt or humiliate.

As my kids grew older, I didn’t need to be as careful.  If I slipped, they assured me, “Mom, it’s nothing we haven’t heard at school.”  My twenty-one year old son Eli’s ‘S’ word is “Oh, snap!”  But there are times when only the ‘Shit’ word will do.  In writing, storytelling, and conversation, few words are verboten, so long as we are mindful of the language.  Before I use one of those words I ask myself, “Is it necessary?  Is it audience-appropriate?  Is it authentic?”

Once when we were teenagers, our mother was driving us home in a snowstorm on a deserted street at midnight.  She was followed several blocks to our house and then ticketed by a cop.  Her crime, which she denied to her dying day, was not coming to a complete stop at an intersection.  As the cop drove off, my soft-spoken, long-suffering mother muttered, “Bastard!” and stomped into the house. We kids sat in the car in shocked silence before my big sister Miriam finally said, “Guys, we really need to watch our language.  I think Mom might be picking it up.”

Authentic?   Oh, yes.  True to character?  I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t been there, but I was and that’s how it happened.  Would I use it?  Sorry, Mom, but yeah.  I just did.


Photo courtesy of  Mr. Bruce Kittess of The Three Monkeys:



  1. AareneX says:

    On-target (as always!)

    1. Thanks so much, Aarene. I appreciate your stopping by.

  2. Anne Fitzgerald says:

    I recently had a dream in which an angel (with tacky wings and halo, which they know I don’t believe in) was saying to me: “You really ought to knock off the swearing.”

    1. Wow! What a great dream. No hidden subtexts there. The meaning of my dreams tends to be very clear to me–no Cliff Notes necessary. Were you an English major too? Thanks so much for stopping by, Anne.

  3. kathy Klein says:

    Another funny post, Naomi. And so true.

    I used to help supervise my son’s kindergarten class during their lunch hour, and one day a little girl came up to me with a very worried look on her face. When I asked her what was the matter she confided, “Tyler just said the “F” word!”
    I didn’t know how to respond to that, so I just blinked & asked, “He did?”
    The girl nodded solemnly, then leaned closer & whispered, “Yeah. He said ‘fart’.”

    1. Hi Kathy! That is so funny! I remember my little brother wearing a shocked expression as he told me, “I just heard Daddy say SH#T! But I didn’t believe him, and I told him so. I thought we kids had invented that word. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  4. kewsmith says:

    The ‘S’ words were stupid and shut-up in our house. Evidently other parents did not agree with me.My daughter was in Elementary school when she informed me that everyone said ‘stupid’ and asked me how old she had to be before she could use the word. Now she is old enough to decide for herself and I never here her say it although, she has a fondness for a four letter ‘C’ word.

    1. That is so funny! Thanks for stopping by. I love your blog, and look forward to more posts.

  5. Heh, that’s great!
    Strange too, since I’ve always tried to explained to my mum who I feel about swearing, with varying degrees of success. Mainly because, to this day, I can’t swear in front of her. It just feels horrifically disrespectful for me and the one time I did slip up we were both so horrified that neither of us spoke for an hour.
    Thing is, you’re quite right; there are words, used so loosely, that, even though they aren’t ‘rude’ or ‘naughty’ have so much power. Hate, war, murder, rape are truly awful words because of what they mean; but people chuck them around all the time.
    The ‘traditional’ swear words however, cause people to go slightly nuts when most of the time they don’t even really mean anything.
    Very odd to me.

    Thanks for the post. 🙂

    1. HI Ileandra,

      I don’t know how I managed to miss this reply, but I love what you wrote. Thinking of you and those darling babies!

  6. tita buds says:

    Ah, swearing. Someone said that it gives us the relief denied us by religion. 😉

    1. I love that! Never heard it before. Thanks for the visit, Tita.

  7. Reblogged this on Work the Dream and commented:
    Wonderful blog naomi and says along the same lines of what I was saying about the words we use. 🙂

  8. love this. Thanks for giving me the link . 🙂

    1. I appreciate the reblog!

  9. Madhu says:

    Lol! ‘Stupid’ is the bad word of choice when the boys fight, but I was amused and a little concerned to learn that the worst abuse for the 6 year old is ” you are a girl”! 🙂

  10. Madhu says:

    Yes, my daughter needs a girl in the house for balance 🙂

  11. frizztext says:

    O.K. no S or F or H 4 letter words …

  12. Pat Bailey says:

    My funniest child story was when the five of us were in the car and my youngest, then 5, said that so-and-so has a hairy d###. Jim & I looked at each other and I asked if I heard what I thought I heard. He nodded yes, and I said that at least she didn’t know what it meant. Middle daughter piped up, oh yes she does. We, like you, were very careful in our language around the children but oh what they brought home from school. And obviously our children had discussions that we knew nothing about. They have grown into very articulate, well-mannered adults but there for a time I was worried.
    Thanks for the great post.

    1. Hi Pat,
      That is a stitch! Oh, my, yes! Kids know so much more than they we give them credit for. And yet, when my little brother came out of the house once, truly in shock, and said he heard our daddy use the ‘S’ word, I refused to believe him. How would a grownup know a naughty children’s word like that? I was sure we had invented it.

  13. Amy says:

    Hi Naomi, Wonderful story for the challenge S. Thank you for the post.

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