Special-Occasion Swear Words

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One of my students who is on the autism spectrum recently asked me why some swear words are considered worse than others. Good freakin’ question! Who knows? It’s confusing! So we took all of the swear words she knows and sorted them on a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being the lesser swear words and 5 the BIG words that get a BIG reaction from people. We put ‘dammit’ on the number 1 level. We decided that ‘shit’ was about a 3, and so on all the way up to level 5 words. We talked about how even if we don’t know why certain words have such an effect on people, in our society they do, so we have to be careful of the words we choose.

I decided to relate this idea to my own life. I started thinking of level 5 as a top shelf full of swear words that are like Grandma’s wedding china. We only lift them down and dust them off for special occasions. We don’t want to wear them out with everyday use.

It’s important to be vigilant so special occasion words don’t topple off the shelf by mistake as my mom, Nonnie to the grandkids, discovered on a recent vacation. We were all staying at a lake for two weeks in the summer and the four young cousins were all fishing on the dock. My nephew reeled in a huge, seaweed colored, scaly, sharp toothed, mean looking fish. My mom stood up from her beach chair to take a look and said, “Holy F*#k!”

It was just like the scene from A Christmas Story where Ralphie is helping his dad change the tire and the hubcap filled with lug nuts gets bumped and goes flying through the air in slow motion. In my mind, when my mom stood up and uttered that fateful word, time slowed to a crawl. The waves inched toward the shore. The kids’ heads turned slowly toward my mom, their eyes huge and mouths hanging open. My mom and I looked at each other as our hands moved like stunned starfish to cover our shocked mouths.

Then time sped up again. We started laughing hysterically. I can tell you that this story will live in infamy. The grandkids bring it up whenever possible. “Remember when Nonnie…”

So be careful with those special occasion swear words. Keep them securely on a high shelf until you need them!

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