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Jan 13 2011

Wash Out The H-A-T-E

By at 12:55 pm

Recently, a blogger on this site, referring to Debbie Friedman (or, to what would have been more accurate, to her body of work) gave three options including “I love her” and “I hate her.” I was distressed by the use of the word “hate,” especially because by the time I read the post, Debbie had died. And she had been a close friend.

“Hate” was a four-letter word in my house when I raised my kids. It was, well, hateful. I could imagine nothing in my children’s world to which it could be applied. Certainly there was no one to whom it could be applied.

When one of my sons was five, he came home from day camp and used the “s” word. I took him over to the kitchen sink and told him that it was a terrible word and I had to wash his mouth out with soap. I had no intention of actually doing it but my kids knew I meant what I said.  (This is the one exception I can think of in many years of child-rearing when I didn’t.) He got hysterical- crying, apologizing and promising to never say it again. I put down the dish detergent. I don’t think he used that word for the next twenty years. It’s possible he still doesn’t. He certainly doesn’t in front of me. On the other hand, once my kids were out, I admit to using it all the time. Looking back, I do think I overreacted, but it sounded so horrifying coming out of a little kid’s mouth.

The whole four-letter word thing is difficult. I kind of agree with George Carlin and Lenny Bruce. What makes them “bad words?” Yet we generally refrain from using them in “polite company.” But we do still use them.

The “f” word is inescapable.  You hear it on the subway, on the streets, in the office. It has lost its power to shock.

However, “hate” is still verboten, still a taboo in my house. It shouldn’t apply to much other than to genocide and Hitler. One can “dislike” something, even “dislike strongly” but- “hate”? What? Who? Why? The very word seems to make the world a darker place.

It is important to distinguish, and teach, right from wrong and good from bad. It is essential to describe and explain hateful practices and even people. But it is important that the word “hate” not lose its punch and that it retain the power to shock. To maintain that, it must be used rarely and judiciously.

To the “f” word, the “s” word and the five other words that can’t be said on television according to Carlin, add the “h” word.

Your kids will be better for it.


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2 Responses to Wash Out The H-A-T-E

  1. Pesele says:

    I’m having trouble responding here without being hypocritical–so let me begin by apologizing for committing the sin that I am about to accuse you of: that of embarrassing someone else.
    Your fellow blogger began her column with a commonly used phrase that describes someone or something that is polarizing. She went on to mourn a personal and communal loss. The phrase, which included a trigger word for you, was incidental to the article.
    I understand trigger words–in fact, the reason I am responding is because your response did that for me. Words come with contexts and discussing ANY word–four letter or otherwise–without reference to context is disrespectful both to language and speaker (see under: Huck Finn, recent bowdlerization). So when you call for a complete ban on “hate” and take your fellow blogger’s use out of context to support that–thereby humiliating and embarrassing her (a pretty major Jewish sin, which I now share with you)–well, I think that points out the dangers of a decontextualized and too literal use of language.
    A thought experiment to illustrate the importance of context:
    Stand, arms akimbo, frown on your face, and in your harshest voice say: “I love you” to someone you can’t stand.
    Then take someone you care about deeply in your arms, look deep in their eyes and whisper: “I hate you.”
    I promise you that, in each case, it’s not the four-letter words that will carry the message.

  2. Kol Hakavod, a great post! Perhaps we mothers and grandmothers are too apologetic about our (grand)parenting today. I think Jewish mothers have now ceded he way to another immigrant group–the Chinese tiger mothers. It would be interesting to read what you think of that new book on Chinese mothers.

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