The Dirty Business of 4-Letter Words


I remember the first time I realized that words have power and that some words shouldn’t be said.  I was probably 3 years old and I was with  my mother going to the post office or the bank or some other errand and I referred to someone as a “freak.”  My mother lost her shit.  This was in the late 70’s and the pain of Vietnam was still fairly fresh in my mother’s mind.  She lost friends in that mess.  Anyway, she told me about how some people don’t have legs because they were “lost” in the war, or that some people have disabilities or disfigurements but that doesn’t make them any different than the rest of us.  It went on and and on and on and, honestly, I was just a 3 year old repeating what I had heard someone else say, so I had no intention of sparking a lecture.  But I have never forgotten it.  At that moment, I understood that words have power and that there are consequences for using them (of course, being as young as I was, the only real consequence I saw was getting in trouble with my mom, but whatever, that’s not the point.)

As I grew older, I learned more 4 letter words: Damn. Shit. Crap. Fuck.  I also learned that some 4 letter words have more or less than 4 letters: bitch, shut-up, ass, etc.  This was confusing to me – what were the rules?  How could you tell if a word was “bad” if it had more or less than 4 letters? And why were they bad?  I mean, they are just a collection of letters.  If my breakfast cereal randomly spelled out one of these nefarious words, would I get in trouble? Was the cereal evil? And who made the decision that these words were bad?  What if those people were stupid?  What if they were wrong?

And still I grew.  I always wondered about those words and why and how and who, but I just lived believing that they were wrong and bad.  And, of course, that meant I said them at every single opportunity until they lost their power to shock, to awe, to thrill.  They became what they are – a collection of letters expressing feelings or emotions or ideas.  The same as punctuation marks, they enforced my point.

Since those words weren’t bad to me anymore, I suddenly found myself with a whole new list of words that were bad and hated: salve, slacks, ointment, scrumptious, luscious, and slurp (among others.)  I nearly come out of my skin when I hear these words.  I mean, seriously, slacks?  Are you kidding me?  The are pants, for crying out loud.  Interestingly enough, the words “slacks” doesn’t bother me in the slightest when used as a verb, but use it as a noun and we can no longer be friends. I don’t have any reason for those words to drive me insane.  Okay, that’s not true.  I do have reasons.  Say them outloud. Right now.  Yeah, see, they’re awful, aren’t they?  Horrible, terrible, nasty-bad, egregious words.  I think they’re horrible because of the images they evoke, the feeling in the mouth while saying them, the way they make me feel when I’m exposed to them.

I was thinking about those words this morning and, when I realized that they are bad because of how they make me feel, I suddenly thought of a whole new list of bad, 4-letter words. Fat. Ugly. Stupid. Poor.  Incapable. Worthless. Lacking.  Need.  Hate. Than (think about it – ‘than’ is a word of comparison and that never turns out well.) Broken. Old. Limited. Can’t. Should.  Shouldn’t. Must.  Wrong. Perfection.

I have to stop listing these words.  It’s too depressing.

What would it be like if we replaced those words?  What if we disallowed those words in our life?  What if we never said them to anyone else?  That seems simple enough, but here’s the real challenge: what if we never said them ever again to ourselves?


What if we replaced them with words like: Love. Enough. Trust. Heal. Rest. Peace. Kindness. Beautiful. Healthy. Worthy. Plenty. Truth. Strong. Loveable. Faith. Courage. Can. Progress. Wise. Unique.   How would that feel?  How would it feel to say those words?  How would it feel to hear those words? What would it be like to believe those words about our world, our family, ourselves?

Words have power.  They change who you are, what you believe, how you feel.  One word at a time, we’re deciding our lives. We can make a choice.  What will you choose?  What are your 4-letter words?  What do you choose to replace them with? How does it make you feel?



4 responses »

  1. I LOVE this idea of replacing negative words with positive. There’s something so powerful about both hearing what you say to yourself (which is no easy feat in and of itself) AND choosing to make a switch. I think this is the path of transformation.

  2. Obese. The word is unpleasant even when one shapes her mouth to pronounce it.
    I am very happy to be the Venus of Willendorf. Revered in some cultures, thank you very much. =)
    Love you and miss you, Mama Kohl.

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