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Word Choice: Sticks and Stones


A long, long, long…a very long time ago; I’m speaking of 1968 when I first started school and was sitting in those little Seminole circles (supposed to be) repeating after the teacher, “sticks and stones may break our bones, but words shall never hurt us,” when I then realized ‘our mirrors’ might be on backwards.

I’m not sure if the chant was strummed up for things going on out on the playground, or to help us deal with the social unrest ‘major’ parts of the country were experiencing, but whichever it were, not too many of us were buying into that lyric. This contention was proven every time a joke was told about someone’s mama, or a child answered a parent with ‘huh?,’ or how about a student telling a teacher to, ‘go to hell!’

Yes, you better believe it! All bets on that mantra were off when one of the above infractions occurred.

Yet, that ‘sticks and stones’ lyric fish-tailed right on over to today.

I’m speaking of cutesifying a word to tone it down. It shook me a little, the first time I saw this done in what I thought was an adult novel. I whispered to myself, ‘ta-ta’s’?

Well wait. I need to push this slow bus back some. The very last person who needs to be writing about swapping out words for words I think ‘rings’ better, is M-E. I love words, and play with them all the time. Aside from that, this topic isn’t so benign that it can be painted with that broad of a brush.

For instance, and get ready, but pushing back to one of them old times, once upon a time I was placed in a ‘remedial’ class, written out as RE (remedial education); but what we remedial students called retarded. Now, remedial might sound pleasant, or better in many ears, but to a child who has been placed in this class it means (and feels) the same as retarded.

And true that. It indeed does appear that users ‘toning down’ more poignant vernaculars present themselves as respectful, and polished professional versions of courteous; well versed at expressing realisms in a polite fashion that never-the-less does not change the meaning of the ‘watered down’ word.

In fact, it’s even more insulting since instead of the issue being corrected, what really occurs is a whole lot of patronizing, particularly when there is this whispering need to drum down the base word to use it at all.

In other words, help us, so that we don’t have to be labeled either ‘remedial’ by the professionals, or ‘retarded’ by those riding the slow bus. You know… as another old adage goes, “don’t piss up our legs and tell us it’s just raining.”

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