A woman I know, whose kids are friends with my kids, dropped the “c” word the other day in a conversation with me and another mother. Now, normally, I am not one to censor language, though I do exercise some caution when in the presence of children. (I don’t want to be responsible for birthing the next potty mouth, especially the mouth of one of my own kids.) When this woman said this word, I jumped a little, startled. Our kids were playing in the pool within earshot of the chairs we sat on. I looked over and the kids were so involved in their own playing and their conversation that I don’t think they heard anything.
She was telling a story about how a young woman on beach patrol had asked to see her beach badge, which she did not have. She told of the brief predictable exchange of words that happens in these kinds of situations. She then turned to us story listeners and called the beach patrol woman a “college c---“. My breath caught. I didn’t see how that name-calling was necessary, especially that name. The young woman was just doing her job. (I already dislike this woman. She just made it worse.)
Normally, I don’t like giving power to a certain word. I try to use certain charged or loaded words as often as possible to take their power away, to dull the sting. For example? Fuck. Though I do not say this word in front of my children*, I say it often enough among adults that it no longer carries the forbidden weight it used to carry. I think this is the case, generally: that people are using it more often these days and as a result, has lost its shine. There are only a few words that I refuse to say. Like the “n” word. The “c” word is on the fence for me. I don’t have a problem saying it in class for a lesson on the power of language, but using it to name someone based on their behavior or on one’s opinion of a woman? That bothers me. A lot.
*(I do realize this defeats my purpose of refusing to give power and significance to certain words, by allowing this word to carry enough weight that it is stricken from my language around my kids, heck, kids in general. But hey, we’re all walking contradictions, right?)
I’ve been thinking about how language is constantly in flux, how meanings and usage shift and change over time. Will this happen with the “c” word? I don’t know. For some people, it might. For others like me, I don’t forsee it losing its vulgar sting. The hard sound of the “c” followed by the softness of the “un” and forcefully end-stopped by the short sound of the “t” – how can that NOT sting? The sounds alone are harsh. That middle softness misleads you into thinking “oh it’s not that bad” but then BAM! That “t” cuts right into you. And that’s just the sound of the word. Its meaning just adds to it. To use this word in order to relegate a woman to a thing is awful. To have a woman do this to another woman is doubly awful.
Language is a funny, odd thing. So limiting in capturing the exact emotions of our hearts, but yet it finds a way to singe us, to pierce us.