Friday, July 25, 2008

A word is just a word...

I went shopping with Ben today. He needed new shoes. He's been telling me daily for a week: "Mom, I could really like some new shoes, maybe some more sandals because summer is not over yet and these ones are not so nice anymore and they smell bad, and I could like a new pair of tennis shoes too, because I like to run fast and running fast is not so easy in sandals."

Side Note: Ben is almost 5, and has been speaking clearly since he was about 20 months old. It's not my doing, really, he's very intelligent and is the third child, so has heard more speech since birth than the other two combined. I do think his first words were "stop touching me" however.

We were in the checkout line with our little handheld basket (which conveniently limits purchases) and he was taking things out for me. He dropped the box containing his new tennies (clearance and they fit and he liked them! Hat Trick for mom!) and said,

"Oh, crap, I dropped them! I wasn't trying to juggle you, shoes! Come back here!"

Now the woman behind me started to laugh - she was alone but clearly a mom, also, and appreciated Ben's little admonishment to his shoes.

But the woman in front of us, who was also a mom and had her brood with her, let out a shocked gasp and so did the oldest of her three kids. We were perhaps 8 feet away from them, but I clearly heard the middle child whisper, "Mommy, he said a bad word!" She shushed them all, refused to make eye contact with me, and finished her transaction. Ben continued to scold things from the basket, letting them know that he had no intention of juggling them either and they would all need to kindly stay put, please. I didn't think much about it until we were driving home and Ben, who never really stops talking, suddenly says, "Mom, is crap a bad word?" and then stops talking to wait for my answer.

Wow. Is it?

Here's what I told him: "Well, it's not really a bad word, but it's not a very nice word, and maybe we could find something different to say, like fiddlesticks or squash or drat." This made him happy, and he of course used fiddlesticks and squash in various sentences all the way home, and tried with some success to find rhymes for both. That's a whole 'nother post...

Here's what I thought: I use the word all the time. I love the way it sounds, like you feel when you use it - crap. It became part of the lexicon in the 1850's in phrases like 'I have to crap' and 'that's crappy workmanship'; and then became commonplace in the 1920's and 30's when crapper became a new word for toilet. It's synonymous for bad words, but is it really a bad word in itself? I don't think so. It's not very nice sounding coming from the mouth of an otherwise cute kid, so perhaps I should teach my children something cuter to say. But I was secretly proud of the fact that he used it in the appropriate context.

So when fiddlesticks and squash become old hat or even embarrassing to say, perhaps they will be old enough to decide if and when to use crap or something else (they are their father's kids too...) or maybe we can come up with something entirely new, like "gablitznick" or "crumbledeehoo." Then again, that is probably the point when mom ceases to be funny and becomes embarrassingly weird, even though she hasn't changed a bit.

(I know you're asking how I know all that stuff about word history. That's another post, also. Suffice it to say I have quite a reference library that does not involve a search engine because I love this crap.)

No comments: