Thursday, August 27, 2009

You Say Tomato

The now-4-year-old walks back into our church meeting, bringing with her a noticeable bathroom smell. Hal discreetly whispers to her, “Did you wipe?” Rolling all over his lap, because she never just sits, she screws up her face like she’s trying to explain Chaos Theory to an amoebae. “Well, I did. Just not all over.”
I wish I could get behind the thought process there. Obviously, there’s a reason she hadn’t wiped all over. I didn’t feel that that particular meeting was the best time to delve into her hygiene habits. She talks really, really loud, and she uses words like ‘vagina’ which seem louder when old people are sitting all around us.
When we lived in Houston, I took my 2 oldest to the art museum. The youngest was 5 at the time. We paused in front of a painting of the Madonna with John the Baptist and Jesus as infants. Of course, there were no clothes on the babies. The 5 year old looked at the picture for awhile, then said loud enough for the old biddies in hats to harumph at us, “Why is his penis showing?” I didn’t really have an answer for her. I’m sure there’s an artistic reason, showing innocence or youth or something like that. I pointed out the way the artist had used shading to create a feeling of morning sun. She knew I was bluffing, of course, but uncharacteristically let it slide.
When Hal lived in Brazil, he learned how to say “up your @$$hole” from a 3 year old who also happened to go to his church. My first “native” word in Spain was puta, which means “very very bad lady” or something like that. I asked my friend what it meant, and she clapped her hand over my mouth as soon as the word left it. There’s nothing like a slap on the face to help you remember the nasties. And one group of recovering drug addicts who were trying to learn English asked me to translate AC/DC songs. I told them in all honesty that I couldn’t do that because I had no idea what those words were in Spanish and they weren’t in my dictionary. Which, of course, made them giggle. Have you ever seen grown men giggle? It’s a scary thing.
Words that in Spain are used in polite society would make a Mexican cringe. Don’t you think that’s bizarre? An arrangement of letters, to which we’ve given an arbitrary meaning, can cause a grown man to blush or a mother to rinse her child’s mouth out with soap. Once, while a teenager in Chicago, I left the car my friend was driving because he kept repeating a certain word over and over. It’s not that I had a clean mouth growing up. But there were a few words that made (still make) my skin crawl, and he’d latched onto one of them. I’d rather brave the dark underbelly of lower Wacker Drive than listen to them. And yet, if you said them to some people, they’d nod their head and ask what the problem was. Hal had a friend in Brazil who, when asked by a child to teach him some bad words, got all serious and said that the worst word you could say is ‘appliances.’ The child ran off, thrilled with the taste of the swear word in his mouth. But here’s the question of the day: does his believing it’s so make ‘appliances’ a dirty word?
And if it does, does it matter that to any other English speaker, the word is completely innocuous?

4 comments:

buttercup said...

We had an acquiantace from England who would swear constantly, because they were acceptable in England, and their huge swear word was some ridiculously sounding word that just made us all laugh and as Americans we would repeat it over and over again, because it meant nothing to us. I also learned seemingly polite language in Belgium that were apparently very bad swear words in France. I also lived with a girl who grew up on the wealthy side of Paris and she taught me polite french language, so when I lived with the girl who grew up "on the other side of the teacks" in Paris I would gasp at her language and she's like what? That's not a swear word.

Barbara Bee said...

Really like that "appliance" story. Made me laugh.

halsadick said...

I can't believe you wrote the "A" word (appliances) in your blog!! I'm so offended. I'm not sure I can read such trash. I'm telling your bishop.

Big Bahama Mama said...

My Bishop would laugh, slap me on the back and say, "I didn't know you were pregnant!"