Tuesday, January 13, 2009


I spent my religion class today talking about oaths, swearing, blasphemy, perjury, and cursing with twelve year olds...

As might be expected, the latter term was deemed by the students the most worthy of our time. First stop, what is a curse? Wishing evil upon someone or intentionally stripping away someone's inherent dignity by calling for certain actions against them.

A student asked about why certain words became associated with cursing rather than other words that might have been chosen--an interesting and thoughtful question that got us into the context of use. "Apple" still means for most a yellow, green, or red juicy, sweet/tart, crunchy fruit that quenches thirst, fills the stomach and is commonly used in pie. But, if the word "apple" is used in a rage, verbally flung at someone in an argument, or yelled in anger, the associations might begin to change. We also talked about the actual sounds of words that would make a list of "curse words." Many are harsh sounding, sharp lettered, and slice at the ear...compared to, say, "lullaby" or even "belly button." The students are twelve, remember. The meanings behind some of the words that "make the list" also refer to crude, violent acts. So, history, sound, meaning, tone of delivery, surrounding context of delivery, social mores, who is saying it... all converge in varying degrees to determine "why this one and not that one."

I kept thinking to myself that I hope they remember this conversation, at least for a little while. Understanding the influence of the myriad of associations people make with word use and language is a lesson for living. Why a particular image of God? Why are some names for God so hard for people? Heaven? Good? Acceptable? Proper?

Yes, a rose by any other name...but also, hope is a thing with feathers. Feathers, not armor. To this writer, at least, that makes a difference.

My kids make a difference too.

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