Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Taboo words as audience-awareness enhancement tools

Over the weekend I was sitting at the dining room table with a bunch of tests and essays. Everyone else was either outside or off somewhere else. I had music playing and was comfortably settled in for a long slog of marking. After some time, my mother and aunt came in from their gardening and suddenly the music, which had been such a great companion, was awkwardly loud. I jumped up and turned it down because I simply couldn't enjoy it at that volume because I expected they wouldn't enjoy it at that volume.

This reminded me of something I've noticed with my kids' language. The two of them, one in grade 1 and one in 4, will occasionally and unselfconsciously say things like "oh my god!" or "thank god!" I have no compunction against using these exact phrases myself, and I don't even notice when other adults use them. But with the kids, it rubs me the wrong way. And I will ask them not to use those expressions.

No, I don't think there's anything at all wrong with the words. I don't have the Christian worry about taking "the lord's name" in vain. So why, then, does it grate on me so?

Yes, I understand about in-group/out-group distinctions, but why would I, personally, make such a distinction with this word.

And here's the kicker, when my son was reading the Percy Jackson books, he started saying "thank the gods" instead of "thank god." And it didn't bother me in least.

But I think there's a part of me that knows other people will be offended by it and so I want the kids to have an awareness of their audience, the same awareness that tells me to turn down my music. I commonly find that my students have trouble tailoring their writing to an audience. So could it be that making some words taboo will help them be better writers in the future? Probably not, but the notion makes me feel a little better for being annoyed at their use of what should really be innocuous words.


Grandpa said...

If it had been in the singular you would probably not take any notice of it. In this part of the world (I live in the tropical rainforest)some people are getting used to "... oh my buddha..."

Anonymous said...

It was singular, Grandpa. Read it again.