Thursday, May 22, 2008

Butt is a naughty word

So, Mark got me laughing—and thinking—with this quote from his daughter, age 7: "It was awesome, I tell you! There was a water creature that breathes out of its butt!” (Who knows what water creature she saw.)

I was thinking about how it would be a different quote at our house because my kids are not allowed to say butt.

And then I wondered, why aren’t they?

Because butt was a bad word at my house when I was growing up. Also bum. We said, very politely, “bottom.” Which is what my boys say. At least, around me. I’m beginning to think they probably don’t say that very effeminate but polite word around their dude-buddies. Even, maybe, I’m hoping they don’t.

But do I really want them saying BUTT????

Why not? Possibly, it is a perfectly well-accepted term in the real world. Possibly the only reason I think it’s crude is that I was taught so in my home of origin. How can I tell? Someone help me, here! Have I done my boys a disfavor? Certainly there are lines. We all know the word everyone uses for this body part on TV, and of course THAT is not acceptable. And I will be the first person to protest against the practice of teaching your kids silly words for their private parts. No, we have been very careful to call EVERYTHING by its correct name. Except, well, BUTTOCKS. (Is THAT the correct name? What is it, anatomy specialists?)

I’ve always been determined that my boys will be polite, behave like gentlemen. For example, I can’t stand seeing guys spit on the ground, and so my boys have been forbidden do that (where I can see, anyway!). Although I won’t be able to stop them from doing it when I’m not around, I am conscientiously creating a feeling of unease about it—they may turn out rude, but at least they’ll know they’re rude. But I begin to wonder whether I am doing them a disservice, curbing their masculinity or something because I have given them certain words and refused them certain others.

I’m having butt-paranoia!


Zina said...

We used the word "bottom" in my house growing up and now I'm a little squeamish about the word (and I agree that it's a bit effeminate.) I think I usually settle for "bum." Weirdly enough I also prefer, and we use, "poopy diaper," because the polite term "messy diaper" that we used in my house growing up came to have fairly unpleasant associations for me. (I was the 2nd child and oldest daughter of 9 closely-spaced kids, and did a huge amount of child care.) I've caught myself saying "poopy diaper" in public, though, which is embarrassing.

My kids say "crap" quite a bit and it bothers Dean, especially since his dainty daughter Mabel has been using it a lot, so he's trying to discourage them from saying it but I'm not too much help -- I tell them that it's not a polite word but also not one that offends me a whole lot (I think it's one of my main swear words.) I also tell them not to say it around their friends, and it would probably be easier for them if I just banned it altogether and stopped using it myself, but I don't know if I'm a young enough dog to change my old tricks.

The problem of raising civilized and polite and well-mannered boys who aren't sissified is a tricky one, I agree. I taught my son to always pee sitting down and it goes a long way towards keeping my bathrooms clean, but I was a little relieved to discover that in publci he'd figured out and adopted the use of urinals. Actually I think he now stands up even at home, although I haven't paid enough attention to his bathroom habits in the last several years to be sure.

I just realized this comment contains the words poopy and crap and pee -- I guess that tells you how uncivilized and impolite we are around here.

Mark Brown said...

Butt paranoia? I think there's a cream for that.

Patti said...

My daughter (21 years old) is still bitter over the use of the word "breasts" vs. popular slang. She claims she was humiliated at school one day and laughed at when she used the word instead of boobs.

They also were not allowed to use slang expressions re: passing gas. E.V.E.R.

I think they will be okay.

Roger said...

The gluteus maximus muscle is what makes up the majority of the buttocks. I suppose we could use the word "butt" which is short for buttocks just like we use "abs" as short for abdominals. Is "abs" a bad word, too? Maybe we should just call that area our "glutes," referring to all three of the gluteal muscles.

Denny & Joe said...

We say both "bum" and "bottom" at our house. We also say "fart," which I was forbidden to say growing up (and I remember being horrified when a neighbor girl said it); it's always seemed pretty harmless to me (and quite descriptive). I am trying to purge "crap" from my conversations (it was another growing-up no-no, and I don't like the sound of it). I did say two worse words than that today, though, when we got a long scratch on our recently refinished entryway floor.
With regard to spitting in the marketplace: My corny former home teacher used to say, "If you expect to rate in public, don't expectorate in public." :)

L@pterces said...

The problem I have with 'bottom', which I was also taught was the preferred term growing up, is that it's not really the 'bottom' of anything. Your feet are at the bottom, generally (or your head, if you're standing on it!) but your 'bottom' is probably more often in the middle- the horizontal axis of your body if you're upright OR upside down. About the only time your 'bottom' is on the bottom is if you're lying on it in bed, or in a casket (ulp!) etc. I guess the same could be said of 'butt', which dictionary. com defines as "the end or extremity of anything, esp. the thicker, larger, or blunt end considered as a bottom, base, support, or handle". Perhaps a more accurate term is 'backside' or the current favorite among my nieces and nephews, which is 'twotsit'... at least they like to hear adults say it!

I was also taught not to say 'fart' growing up, but I think it's a fine example of onomatopoea. I still cringe a little when I catch myself using it, but it rolls off the tongue better than some of the alternatives. I mean, saying 'who passed?' especially in the south, has a completely different meaning than 'who farted?'

Darlene said...

Hi, Patti! Welcome and thanks for de-lurking for a moment.

Queen K said...

Oh, I'm not the one to ask. My kids say all kinds of things. Reed was raised in a very strict household as far as language went, and I thought it was a bit silly and extremem, but I think it all comes down to what we've been trained to be comfortable with. There's nothing inherently wrong with "butt." BUTT, if it bothers you, there's nothing wrong with that either.

Mark, where can I get some of that cream? I'm pretty paranoid about my own butt.

Jill M said...

(also delurking)
The B word is not allowed in our house either, in fact today at dinner the boys had a conversation about how they couldn't watch a certain cartoon DVD on Sunday because it had the B-U-T-T word in it. I guess I feel that if it is hard to cross the line with mild slang words it will hopefully be harder to cross the line with words that are worse.
We don't use the f word either, but also today while getting into the car on the way to church, my oldest complained that the van smelled like gas and when I quickly asked which kind of gas, my son replied that it smelled like someone farted, whereupon I was relieved and a bit horrified at the same time.
I think I have told my kids that these are not bad words in most other families, but we don't use them in our house because I don't like the way they sound. I feel a little better knowing I'm not the only one!

Emily M said...

We grew up saying only B.M. and urine for poop and pee-poop and pee were very bad words to me as a child. Also butt, stupid, dumb, shut up, and fart.

I think my mom's a little disappointed that I did not teach my kids B.M and urine instead of poop and pee. Poop and pee are easier, though. We say "bum" not "butt." And stupid and dumb are garbage words at our house too. So you're not alone.

scott said...

Well, I suppose you have already figured out by now that as far as I'm concerned almost all words are viable depending on the situation. Words--in themselves--have no more meaning or effect than what we allow them to have. The trick is in figuring out what words others have placed in the taboo column. In our house, "fat" is the F-word. On the specific example here, to me it matters not a wit what word is used to refer to the things I sit on. In fact, seat is often the word that comes to mind. But then, so is butt, backside, bottom and yes, even ass. It all depends on the situation. My 11 yr. old daughter falls on her rump and tears up, I say, "'Dya hurt your bottom, Babe?" And I kiss it better. Really. My 13 yr. old son gives me some lip about something, I say, "Sit your ass on that chair before I kick it through the door." Words should be used for effect, and if you know that certain words offend, then why use them unless your purpose is to offend? But then, no one ever won or influenced friends through offensive behavior. That's just rude. Teach your kids that your home has a certain culture that allows some things and disallows others. Then teach them that other homes have different cultures, and they need to respect that. What matters is what you mean by what you say. If I really want to I can eviscerate someone with my words and never once use vulgar language. Does that make me a good guy? At the same time, most of my friends are people to whom I can say "You are so full s--t." when they are, and they will smile or laugh. No feelings hurt. Does that make me a bad guy? Culture and respect.

L@pterces said...

Nothing gets my attention like profanity from someone who doesn't normally use it (I remember the first time I heard my mother swear!). On the other hand, nothing breeds contempt and disregard in me like someone who uses profanity every third word!