The Power of the Four-Letter Word

Moist. Smock. Panties. Nourish. Supper. Panties. Womb. Aspic. Panties.
All of these words are seemingly harmless. They neither contain profanity nor do they have an unsavory connotation. Yet, when asked which words make their skin crawl, my friends promptly identified the above. (Please note the frequency in which “panties” appears. Much appreciated.)

There doesn’t appear to be any rhyme or reason to a person’s reaction to such words. The response is visceral.

But society often plays a role in shaping our response to other words, namely those of the four-letter variety.

Words with four letters have a power all their own. In their most basic form, they encompass the polar opposite of raw human emotion: love and hate.

“Hate” is one of those few G-rated movie words that, with the right delivery, can crush someone.

“Love,” when not reduced to “<3,” “luv,” or worse yet, “wuv,” is still one of the most powerful words in the English language. It is one of those rare words where the silence in its absence can be as strong as the power of its verbalization.

Of course, “four-letter words” in their best and truest form are those words that were forbidden fruit to us as kids.

In our infinite childhood wisdom, my friends and I replaced such words with alternatives, like “fudge,” “h-e-double hockey sticks,” “shit-ake mushrooms,” etc. (This also serves as further proof that hindsight reveals we’re never as cool as we thought we were at the time.)

Considering most of us didn’t know how to construct a poignant insult with four-letter words at a relatively young age, their impact was lost on us.
However, many of us have experienced the painful power of other four-letter words – ugly, dumb, slut, fatt (it got so big it needed another letter) – at a vulnerable age. Such physically, intellectually, and socially degrading descriptors can leave a lasting scar, whether or not we’re aware of it.

Let’s face it, there’s a reason comedians are overwhelmingly less attractive than the rest of the entertainment industry. Childhood torment is comedy’s breeding ground.

While we may grow a thicker skin as we get older, based on conversations with friends this past year, I realize how much we’re all still deeply affected by other’s words.

Regardless of age or maturity, there will always be certain people who build themselves up by taking others down.

Whether it’s the guy who thinks he’s still on the playground, and insults a woman to get her attention. Or the person who always gives backhanded compliments to his/her friends. Perhaps it’s the person who seeks to establish their intellectual superiority over others by constantly incorporating in everyday conversation those words that should be exclusively reserved for the NY Times Sunday Crossword.

Whatever their quirk, most of us have someone like that in our lives. We all have choice words we like to call these individuals in private, but luckily our generation (building on that word creativity we developed as kids) has adopted a publicly appropriate four-letter word to describe said individuals: tool.

So rather than declare some cliché or snarky New Year’s resolution, my hope is to stop letting the tools of the world affect how we see ourselves. Let this be the year we all see ourselves the way our friends and loved ones see us.

Alternatively, you can screw the highroad in 2012, and just tell any tool you come across to fudge off and go to h-e-double hockey sticks before you kick the shitake mushrooms out of him/her.

It’s win-win.

Just My Mazel