Appropriate speech has long been a topic of conversation in my house. Pretty much since they could spit out the uncouth potty humor, we’ve been laying the tracks for a Polly Pure vocabulary. There are many areas in which I am not as prudish as I should be. In this area, you can probably call me a prude. The potty humor thing I’m still working on. We don’t have it completely rooted out just yet, mostly because I have laughed one time too many at the wrong thing.
I’m a firm believer that you are what comes out of your mouth. James tells us that we shouldn’t have blessing and cursing coming from the same mouth. Ephesians 4:29 says “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
I try to imagine Jesus having a conversation with a pal. I just bet he didn’t say the Aramaic equivalent of “crap.” I just really don’t think he did. He didn’t hop around the line of what’s okay and what’s not like he was on hot pavement. And if He was pure in speech and action, I’d rather not make up excuses for myself. I’d rather get as far away from that particular line as I can.
With kids, this comes up constantly. Today, it came up a whole bunch. I have no idea why they were all magnetically attracted to this topic today of all days, but since it has been a running theme, I’m just going to blog about it.
Here’s our basic philosophy about speech.. As odd as it may sound, I think of it in terms of the public school behavioral system: Green, yellow, and red. We log potential vocabulary words by color. Red words are the definite ‘no, you don’t’ words for us. I would put “crap” in the red category, even though I said it as a teenager and I’ve already typed it here twice. If it would make my granny blush, it’s a red word. My 4-yr-old has twice today said “darn it” in fake frustration. I don’t know where she heard that and she doesn’t seem to recall, either. But for a 4-yr-old, “darn it” is Red. My rules, not yours. Do with it what you will.
Considerably more ambiguous is our list of Yellow words. Yellow words are words that I don’t let my own kids say but many of their very nice friends ARE allowed to say. “Oh my gosh” goes on this list. They are not allowed to say that because from more than 8 feet away, “gosh” sounds like “God” and I just don’t want my kids throwing that around. But I can name at least 40 people right now who say this and have no issue with it. I wouldn’t pick that fight. I won’t judge. But because of the controversy, the potential misuse, and my own feelings, it’s yellow and you don’t talk yellow in this house. I would also throw ‘stupid’ on the Yellow list. Adults and teenagers use it and know how to handle it. A 4-yr-old calling something or someone stupid just sounds sassy and presumptuous. Give yourself about 12 years and then Stupid to your heart’s content, little one. Again, this is my rule. Don’t try to talk me out of these. This is subjectivity. There’s no point in fussing.
Finally, we have Green words. Green words rock and the kids can say them as much as they like. ‘Love’ is green. ‘Please’ and ‘thank you’ are green. A few other green words or phrases are as follows:
Would you please accept this $100 bill?
May I do chores for you, Dear Mother?
Let’s talk about Jesus.
Can we sit on a bean bag chair and read while classical music plays softly?
So you get the idea. And this entire exchange is the conversation I had with my 4-yr-old today right after she spat out a very emphatic “darn it” with a smile sloppily glued across her face. I gave her the Red/Yellow/Green run down, emphasizing that we stay on GREEN as much as possible. And then I had to run back in the house to grab Todd’s wallet for him. Beloved and Snug were in the car, strapped in, and I could hear Beloved beginning her rehash of my speech as I was running back into the house. She was lording it over Snug, because suddenly she had become the Green Speech Expert. When I returned, I heard,
“And ‘tree’ is okay. And we can say ‘flower’, right Mama? And ‘grass’ is good. Annnnnnd, ‘yard.'”
For a moment, I thought maybe she had misunderstood me and taken the Green thing entirely literally, but then she threw in “stop sign” and broke the pattern of shrubbery and all things photosynthesis.
In my thinking, forcing them to Go Green in their speech grows a more solid and robust vocabulary. I do allow creative substitutes. The under-14 set is not allowed to say ‘stupid’ but I more than encourage some creative synonyms. How about ludicrous, obtuse, unintelligent, or thick-headed? Why say something borderline like ‘good golly’ when you can say ‘sweet sister of a howler monkey’? That’s much more interesting.
At least I think so.
And it’s my blog.
If you are feeling a little Yellow around the edges, may I recommend WordPress.
Or just go green.