A vocabulary lesson

When my Mom was teaching school, she had a standard consequence for students who cussed: she would give them a list of more appropriate words they could have used, and have them copy the definitions from a dictionary. Cussing, she said, was the sign of an inadequate vocabulary.  Along those same lines, each time she heard me cuss she would say to me, “You have a better vocabulary than that – use it!”

Dr. Amy Laura Hall invited a number of women (including myself) to join in conversation about the word b**** – can it be reclaimed as a positive word by feminists, and if so, ought it to be?  You can find that conversation on her blog, Profligate Grace.

I enjoyed reading the various responses, finding the resonances and the variations in our feelings about the word.  I especially enjoyed Amanda Joan Mackay Smith’s discussion of “mudball words” – on the imprecision of words like b****.  In her case for rejecting the word on linguistic grounds, I finally understood what my Mom had been telling me years ago.  While it will take a great deal of effort to excise cussing from my speech altogether, I can begin with finding more helpful and precise words to replace the b-word in my vocabulary!

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