How Did That Word Creep In?

December 11, 2014



A few months ago, I wrote about meeting up with Fern who had a suggestion for a blog topic: to write about something that was difficult for me to do along the way back to Jewish observance.

“Difficult?” I laughed a satisfied laugh. Once upon a time, of course, I missed certain food, certain clothes, back when I wasn’t sure if it was all “worth it.” But that feels like a lifetime ago.

I went on to write about what has been more difficult–changing my inner self. It has been a much slower process, but thank G-d, I’ve made progress here, too.

I recently noticed  something else I need to change: I need a little language upgrade.

As a child, the idea of an expletive, better known as a “swear word” fascinated me– that some mystical combination of letters made a forbidden (and thereby attractive) utterance. I used to wonder who created them and who agreed on their universal badness. (Turns out, if you Google them, you can find out more about their origins, but not about their universal badness.)

As a teenager, a certain amount of swearing was a prerequisite for the brass ring of coolness. Not too much to be trashy, but enough to project an air of boldness in the face of prudishness. It had to be just the right word for the right occasion.

(It’s interesting that Chassidus teaches that our speech is considered a “garment” of our soul; it is something we “put on” but is not who we really are.)

As a young mother, I quickly learned that children imitate phenomenally well (and early) so I cleaned up my speech almost perfectly. There was nothing to talk about. Maybe an “Oh, sugar!” when one of the kids spilled a whole bottle of apple juice on the floor.

But something has happened to me lately. My kids are getting older and somehow, without really thinking about it, I have become a little less careful.

It’s still a bit satisfying in that same “naughty” way to express a sentiment with just the right amount of badness. And, I still contend that there may be times when a swear word does the trick in a way that no other word can.

But I’m really going to try not to use them anymore. At all.

In my attempt to be able to communicate with all kinds of people, I can “put on” or “take off” certain words. My diverse background within my own body makes it legitimately “me,” right?

Maybe, but I did a little soul searching and decided it was time that I eliminate that part of “me” completely. So I made a hachlata, a resolution, not exactly a vow since Jews are forbidden to do that (which is a good thing here because these kinds of words have a way of coming out unexpectedly). It’s more like a serious commitment between a person and G-d.

Hachlatas are perfect for birthdays but, trust me, they’re hard to keep. (My attempt to eat only while sitting down–the hallmark of proper Jewish eating– lasted barely a day.)

But a Jewish woman is likened to royalty, which leaves plenty of room for personality, but always within the boundaries of refinement.

So, no matter how funny or fitting the expletive may be, I’m committed to deleting it. Of, course, I’m not so worried about everyday language. I’m more worried about those “other” times, like the other day when I was both late and lost and the word started to form on my lips. For these times, I will try to remember my hachlata; if I can’t stop myself, I hope I try harder rather than add this to my list of failed hachlatas.

It would be even better if we could always be ensured that those “other” times never happened. But as they say, until Moshiach comes, stuff happens.

(Hmmm. Something is lost in translation, but it’ll have to do.)



Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *