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When Words Are Worse Than Sticks & Stones

Words will never hurt me, huh?

Sometimes that can be true. If someone calls me a geek, I’ll just agree with them. If someone tells me something I know is untrue, big deal. It’s all well and good to say we should know who we are and be confident enough that name-calling doesn’t hurt us. But words hold a particular danger. They have a tendency to become more than just words.

I’ve talked about it before, how words have power and saying you’re teasing doesn’t make it okay. It’s continued to be an issue in varying ways in my classroom.

On a regular basis, a student will tell me something like, “Guess what—Girl X (sitting right there) made out with Boy Y last weekend.” First, I don’t care. Second, I’m pretty sure it isn’t true. And what does the girl do? Smack his arm playfully, act shocked, and say, “I did not! Stop it!” … with a smile.

In other words, encourage him to keep saying such things.

After years of getting the attention he wants from “joking” about girls being “easy,” what else is he going to think he can get away with?

I say when a guy (or anyone) is a jerk, call him out on it. Shut him down. Don’t give him what he wants.

On a related note, a student has spent most of this year calling himself and his friends a particular made-up word. “Miss Lewis, I can’t do this—I’m a _____. _____’s don’t do math.”

(Mostly this has had “Stop trying to make ‘fetch’ happen” running in my head all year.)

But then some of the friends let it slip that this name for themselves was a portmanteau of two words, one of which is ‘pimp.’

I am not okay with this. I know the word has come to have certain pop-culture meanings (i.e., pimp my ride), but as a noun, in the context of a group of boys calling themselves this, I’m not okay with it.

So I’m calling them out on it. I’m asking them if they know what a pimp actually is. (We’re in a sheltered enough community that some kids actually don’t know.) Then I’m asking if they know how a real pimp views women. Once that’s clear, I ask if they understand now why I don’t want to hear anything more about that made-up word in my classroom.

So far, they’ve understood, but I haven’t really seen the main instigators yet. (Just started having these little talks on Friday.) We’ll see if I actually have any success keeping the word out of my classroom. And better yet, convincing these kids that it’s not such a great thing, whether in my classroom or not.

I suspect the originator will argue with me and say my least favorite sentence: “It’s okay, Miss Lewis.”

I truly worry about someone who so constantly tries to insist something’s okay when I tell him to his face that it’s not.

I’ll keep trying.

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An Undeserved Rant, Perhaps

Lots of people have been getting good news lately—yay, good news! But in the congratulations, I’ve seen the following phrase come up a lot:

You deserve it.

This kept standing out to me, and it got me thinking. What does it mean to “deserve” something?

Okay, I know what it means. Somehow by our character or actions, we qualify to receive whatever we’ve gotten. But it kept bugging me.

In ASL, we generally use the same sign for “deserve” and “earn,” and in a lot of cases, they feel pretty interchangeable. So why does something tell me they’re not the same thing this situation? Maybe it’s this:

What does not getting it mean?

If some particular good-thing hasn’t happened for me, does that mean I don’t deserve it? (And of course, this doesn’t just go for me, but anyone who hasn’t gotten whatever that good-thing is.) Please don’t say that’s true, because I’m plenty good at beating up on myself already. 😉

Or then there’s this:

What if someone doesn’t deserve it but gets it anyway?

Clearly if there’s any real meaning to “deserving” anything, it’s possible to be undeserving. So if there are people who deserve but don’t get, there are likely people who get but don’t deserve.

But what does any of that mean? And how does anyone decide? What is it based on?

What’s the point of saying it? Maybe everyone deserves everything, or no one deserves anything. Either way, the statement feels empty to me.

Personally, I’m going to stick to the following:


I’m so happy for you!
This is so exciting.
Good luck on the next step.

Or something along those lines. Because maybe they deserve it, maybe they don’t, but it doesn’t matter. They got it.

Whatever “it” is. 🙂

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Misleading Words

I admit it—I love words.

I loved them even before I became a writer. During graduate school, I took a linguistics class required for my degree. My professor told me I should jump ship on education and study linguistics. It was tempting, because I found it fascinating.

Words are funny things, though. They don’t always do what you expect.

Take phlebotomy for example. It’s fun to say. Go ahead, try it. But unless you have a weird fetish for blood-letting (vampires, anyone?), there’s nothing else about the word that’s much fun.

Then there’s one of my favorites: crapulous. Despite what my spell-check is telling me, it’s an actual word, but it doesn’t mean what you might guess. It’s characterized by excess in drinking or eating.

Pop Quiz: Can anyone tell me (without internet or dictionary cheating) what a clowder is?

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