August 17, 2011
It’s no secret that the words and language we use color our perceptions of the world. Having grown up in Mexico, my thoughts often start out in Spanish even though I speak more English than anything. That syntax and sound are the things I use to measure beauty in speech. I think, though, that there is no better recent example of this ability for early language to shape our perceptions than this little article.
In short, Johanna Gohmann talks about how her parents used euphemisms for certain words, especially things pertaining to sex or bodily secretions. From her article:
Perhaps not surprisingly, my parents’ modesty spilled over into s-e-x terminology as well. To be fair, we didn’t exactly live in Berkeley, Calif., with 9-year-olds openly shouting, “Mommy, my vagina itches!” This was the ’70s and ’80s in the suburbs of Indiana. Many families employed a certain slang with these words, and not just because “rectum” is a difficult word for a toddler. For many, it’s a given that girls have their “coochie” and boys have their “weiner.” But not us, thank you very much. A brief dictionary sampling displays words that were all our own.
Boo (verb) — to defecate: “Mom! The baby just booed in his pants.”
Tink (verb) — to urinate: “He just tinked into a root beer can while driving!”
Tote (noun) — both the male and female genitalia: “Jo kicked Marty in the tote!”
Bo (noun) — buttocks: “Where’s the Benadryl? A bee stung Graham on the bo.”
Giving him elbows (verb) — breast-feeding: “Mom is busy. She’s giving the baby elbows.”
Did you catch all that? It reminds me of a child a coworker once taught. He didn’t know any words for animals or numbers. He knew the baby words. Instead of dog, he’d call said animal a “bowwow.” A seven? That was a “stick w’nother stick.”
My niece, being all of six years old, is actually a very eloquent young lady who can speak a few English phrases and has near-perfect Spanish diction. Why? Her parents never baby-talked to her. I’m assuming my boss and her husband did the same thing with their daughter, a precocious little thing that has syntax down.
I hope you’re seeing the problem with raising a child knowing euphemisms for common, everyday things the rest of us freely discuss. I understand a person might be uncomfortable with certain images and topics, but to alter the word itself will not get rid of that image or that topic.
Check this out. I’m going to substitute the word “Funyun” for “spic,” and all death-related verbs will be switched with “splooge.”
Okay, you see those Funyuns over there? They come here, they steal our jobs, and leave us with nothing. I’m not saying we need to splooge them. No one is saying anyone needs to get splooged. I’m just saying that something needs to get done about the Funyun problem or some of the more radical elements in this country might splooge them if they feel they’ve been pushed too far. And it’s not that I’m racist. My best friend is a Funyun. I just don’t want to see splooge on the streets of this great country.
Back in the third article ever posted here, I said that words have power when we give them power. Unless you have synesthesia, changing one word to another will not take away the meaning of a word. It might make it silly, but it doesn’t mean your subject’s changed.
Don’t be afraid of using the correct words and terms for something. Granted, there is such a thing as being polite in casual conversation, and certain words are funnier than others, but don’t sugar-coat the conversation because the topic upsets you. If the topic is what bothers you, don’t even talk about it. Be honest with yourself. Words have meaning for a reason.
Stop blaming the phonetics and start confronting the vocabulary.
And now, I present to you the only good thing to come out of Final Destination 5. You have to admire the self-awareness these actors and actresses had towards the entire project. They’re comfortable making fun of their movie even before it comes out. Enjoy the campiness!