Friday, February 5, 2010

A word by any other name (and Tracy has a soapbox moment)

I read a post the other day over at Caroline By Line on children discovering the power of language that really got me thinking (hey, don't be so surprised, it's been known to happen once in a while...). I knew I had to write about it when I went to comment on her post, and my mind was flooded with ways of how language affects my own family. I thought it might make for an interesting ramble on my blog (thanks for the inspiration, Caroline!).

I don't know why I was so surprised by the amount of influence words have in our family, seeing as how I'm writing books and all that - I mean, I'm trying to make a profession out of the use of words, right? And really, I've kind of always been a bit of a word nerd. I've been known to help my kids look up a word and get distracted by some new meaning of which I was unaware, and I've read through more encyclopoedias, dictionaries, and thesauruses than I care to admit (yes, I've read them for fun...I'm that cool).

My obsession isn't just limited to the English language, either. One of my prize possessions is a little Momento Orthographique - a cute little book that has 50,000 french words in it. It's awesome, and I've had it since I was seventeen and in my first year of university. Er, so, for umm, like, ten years. (times two)

So, uh, where was I before I got distracted by my lost youth? Oh yeah, semi-deep thoughts on kids and language...

I'm going to make an outrageous statement here: The key to a happy family is good language.

It's true! I know it sounds a bit crazy, but I hope you'll hear me out. Language is how we communicate, and if the language of the home is based on love and kindness, all kinds of happiness ensues, and communication is more effective. Don't you generally want to listen to someone who speaks kindly to you? Of course you do, and children are no different.

When it comes to children experimenting with words, it can be pure magic, or (impure?) H-E double hockey sticks. Kids often hear a saying and pretty much wear it out if you let them. If it's a good saying, it's not a problem. If it's not very nice,'ve gotta pounce on that sucker before it gets out of hand.

Back when my first 2 were three and four, they watched the movie The Aristocats. Well, one of the bad guys yells "Stupid cat!". For some reason, that really stuck with my 3yo*. Everything became 'toopid. I banned the movie until they were older, and banned the word stupid from the family vocabulary FOREVER**.

I have to say that there isn't much that makes me happier than hearing my kids playing together, telling each other stories, or laughing at some witty dialogue. Appreciation of language can be a family activity! Another thing that makes me happy, is hearing them use good language.

Not that they're expected to have mad grammar skillz and wander around saying "I love you" - "No, I love you more." or anything, but when they are using kind language, our home is a happy place, and a little bit of refinement goes a long way. I'm not talking about snooty, high tea with the queen kind of chit-chat, but if we're a little bit mindful of the things we say, and the way we say them, it goes a long way toward bringing joy to the home.

I'll be the first to admit that my family isn't perfect, but our kids get along extremely well, and I believe it's owing to the encouragement of good, clean, kind language. And the good news is, that it's never too late to cultivate that sort of pleasant environment!

I will warn you - once you've begun the nice-ification process of your family language, and start banning certain words, you run the risk of your children thinking the f-word is really the word for passing gas (which happened to my oldest in grade 2, who was distraught because she let the f-word slip at school. It took me a minute to realize she said the other word for was so hard not to laugh!).

So, now that everyone thinks I'm a total language nazi...
I'd like to know - what's your family language like? What works for you?


*That same child is now 12, and he is still fascinated with words. He'll use a big, shiny, new word any chance he gets, and has been known to sit on a new one for months in anticipation of using it in a conversation. He makes me laugh, but I'm also tickled that he loves words so much that he saves them up until he can use them.
**Also on the banned list: swear words, duh, shut-up, idi*t, s*cks, cr*p, f*rt, p*ke, j*rk


Shriram INC. said...

the part about the f-word usuage goin wrong was hilarious...true,my family has its own set of words which i do not believe other families have in their dictionaries!!

Caroline Starr Rose said...

How fun to be scrolling through my reader and come across your post!

From early on, we've talked about being "gentle and loving" with actions and words. This doesn't mean my boys always speak kindly to one another, but the groundwork is there and is easy to refer back to.

Funny you mention banned words. In my classroom I had three things my students couldn't say: shut up, stupid, and sucks. For some of them, it was the first time they'd thought about the power words hold. I didn't run around shaking my fist. They almost always corrected themselves or each other.

Approaching one another with kindness always wins out.

Aubrie said...

I totally agree with you! Growing up my parents wouldn't just say "No" they would explain why like, "because that hurts so and so's feelings" or "Because we need to save money for this other big thing." And it really made a difference using words to explain why. My parents never cursed in front of us, and now I don't curse as well.

Effective communication and giving kids the right words to use in their own daily language is what counts.

Terresa said...

I'm a potty-mouthed mama. So, to clean up my household words, I need to start with myself.

I like the word "snap" as a good swear word replacement. And my kids? They say made up near-Spanish words, it cracks us up every time.

Great post. I agree that tone and love in the home starts with what comes out of our mouths. And the cliche is true: If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all. :)

Tracy said...

Hmm, Terresa, a potty-mouthed, tattooed librarian...I'm sensing a character that may make an appearance in one of my future novels. ;)

We like to say snap too. Got it from watching the show Filmore.

Momza said...

You are so right with this...I want my kids to use the same language patterns I learned growing up in the South: "yes ma'am, no ma'am, thank you ma'am, please."
I even say those things to them--it shows respect--and my momma always said, "Good manners can take you places good education cannot."
Great post!

Erin said...

I love this! It's so insightful and you reference the Aristocats, which is one of my favorite movies (even though I get that it had to be banished for awhile). That's why we don't watch Sponge Bob ... just for us, he is the bearer of bad words.

Your book of French words sounds like SO much fun - wish I could sign up for a tutorial.

Tracy said...

Momza- I've always loved those southern manners.

Erin- Spongebob is also among our banned cartoons.

Kelly said...

Bravo! We memorize poetry. I love it. It puts beautiful words into their little heads. Poetry from the masters.

Anissa said...

Great post! I just found my way over, but will definitely be back. Shut up is banned in our house too.

Fiauna said...

I remember when I used to think the f-word was *toot*, too. Now my kids do as well. I love that. Let's keep our language nice and clean.

Bethany Wiggins said...

My daughter came home from school the other day and asked if hell was a bad word. I told her, if she tells someone to go there, then yes it is. But if it a scriptural reference, no it isn't. So funny how words can be bad.

Natalie said...

Usually my kids speak sweetly to one another... usually. I've really tried not to let words like stupid and shut up into our home. But occasionally the word "hate" gets in, and it has got to be my least favorite word.

Getting My Words Out said...

...and what comes out of our mouths is just an overflow of what's in our hearts. Thank you for the peak into your heart! :D

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