The Nastiest Four-Letter Word ...

Warning:  This post does include foul words ... though perhaps not the ones you'd expect.

I'm going out on a limb here by generalising and supposing that cursing is a universal phenomenon.  I may be wrong, but I've yet to hear of a nation or a culture that hasn't incorporated some type of expletive into its elocutionary fabric.

And while I don't consider myself a prude by any means, and even though cuss words don't make me cringe per se, I do try avoid using them simply because they seem like the lazy-man's alternative to thinking things through and giving true voice to feelings.    

Though I grew up visiting construction sites with my Dad, where 4-letter words were commonplace but no less offensive than they'd be elsewhere, my parents were older (well into their late 30's/early 40's when they had me) and what one would consider old-fashioned for the times.  

And so, despite growing up in the 70's, the 'Me' decade, where freedom of expression was expected, encouraged, even demanded, I basically grew up in a home where swearing as a form of self-expression was NOT the norm.  Oh, I would hear my parents say '$h*t' or 'Dammit' on the odd occasion, but never when they knew I was close enough to hear.  And contrary to many a French-Canadian household, profanity, particularly 'sacres' (the use of words from liturgy as a means of cursing in French Canada), was unacceptable and worthy of a serious tongue-lashing.

I first heard the ''f'' word just before moving to South America, sitting on a curb on a sunny summer day outside our house in Burlington, Ontario.  An older boy from across the street  asked me if I knew what it meant.  I didn't, but of course I didn't admit not knowing.  Even at that young an age, I was afraid to admit I didn't know something, afraid to look silly, afraid I might come out the loser in this test of wits, afraid to admit my ignorance of a term I should obviously have known at the wise old age of seven.

It would be a while yet before I'd learn how to 'sign' that nasty four-letter word, and years beyond that to realise that the word itself carries no real meaning other than the feeling and the emotions we impart onto it.  But at the time, when I first heard it, I just knew it had to be bad ... because of the secretive and all-knowing way it was shared.  I was afraid of what it 'might' mean.

And though my parents later explained it was a 'really bad word', somehow I always knew I could have gotten away with using IT rather than any sacred church words or a 'dammit' with 'God' attached to the front of it.  Because the 'f' word really HAD NO MEANING.  

This vulgar word, uttered across the globe, with a universal reputation of being so nasty ... it was nothing more than an empty vessel waiting to be filled with intention.  

As I grew older, I started understanding my parents' perspective a bit better.  It was what was behind the thoughts and the words that made them most damaging.  It wasn't necessarily the curse itself, it was the intention behind the profanity that could really hurt.  That stayed with me.

When we had Kiddo, we knew there were certain words we didn't want to expose her to in our home.  While the traditional 'f' word was obviously on the list, much like my parents we've never considered the word quite worthy of the adulation it gets all on its own.  Yes, I'd likely lose my 's&*t' if I heard her say it, but mostly because of the intention and feelings behind it, not because of the word itself.  I realise she has no idea what it really means either, and that would basically render it meaningless and unworthy of too much attention.

What I've been much more concerned with lately is a far worse 4-letter word.  One that has no place in our life, and that we rarely utter out loud, yet that creeps in almost daily and gives rise to a host of other expletives.  It is a word that carries so much thought and significance behind it, and that is actually most harmful when avoided and ignored.  

It is a word that very few people are willing to acknowledge, much less give voice to, whether in Canada, Qatar, Egypt, Syria, USA, Russia, or elsewhere. 

That word, the nastiest four-letter word, the one that hurts more when it is silenced than when it is voiced, is none other than:


Elisabeth Kubler-Ross said ''There are only two emotions: love and fear. All positive emotions come from love, all negative emotions from fear.''

I've loved this quote from the first time I heard it, but I'd never put that much thought into it until recently.  And though some might call Elisabeth's statement an over-simplification, I think the complexity of the concept is mind-blowing.  Because it implies that you have to work your way back from every negative emotion to figure out what 'fear' is driving it.  And that may mean finding some nasty truths along the way.

Truths that far exceed the ugly that a meaningless expletive at the forefront could ever convey.

Looking back on my 44 years, I can see a lot of ugly truths, negative emotions and misguided decisions that have been driven by fear:

  • Staying in a failed marriage for far too long because I was afraid I couldn't actually make it on my own, because I was afraid to admit I'd failed, because I was afraid I wouldn't manage to be happy even if I left, because I was afraid that I was actually the single cause of all the unhappiness.
  • Refusing to acknowledge the depth of my grief at losing my dad out of fear that it would so break me that I'd never be whole again, out of fear that I had to make it without him from here on in, out of irrational fear that acknowledgement equalled reality (reality is reality, whether acknowledged or not - denial is only a temporary balm).
  • Refusing to write about my perspective on issues such as 'this' (kudos to my blogging buddy MB for the authenticity and 'real'-ness of his posts) because I'm terrified of acknowledging that humankind is capable of such atrocities.

And there is so much more fear that halts me daily, that stops me from achieving my true potential, that I unwillingly impart into my daughter's psyche, that bleeds into almost every aspect of my life.

There is my very obvious fear of heights.  There is the fear I experience as a mother every time Kiddo heads out alone to walk the 8 doors down to her friend's house.  There is the fear of failure every time I click on 'Save & Publish' for a blog post.  There is the fear of not being able to cope if I throw out my cigarettes for once and for all.  The list is long:

  • Not trusting my gut (e.g. feeling I HAVE to step into an elevator with a shady-looking character), out of fear that I'll offend.
  • Trying to be someone I'm not, out of fear of rejection.
  • Not saying something, out of fear of being wrong.
  • Not trusting, out of fear of deception.

And always, there's the fear of ridicule.  This is the fear that was born of a burpee (nicely demonstrated here by Linora Low) and that gave birth to this post.  

Last week, I was at the gym with the personal trainer I've hired to help whip me back into shape.  He had me doing thirty (30, 3-0, THIRTY) burpees.  I started uttering the 'f' word under my breath at five (5, FIVE).  I started uttering ''I hate this'' quite loudly at ten (10, 1-0, TEN).  At twenty (20, 2-0, TWENTY), I couldn't really breathe ... so I just replayed the 'f' word on a mindless loop in my head.  By thirty (30, 3-0' THIRTY) I was sweating, crying, gasping, flopping around like a landed fish, crawling my way back up to my feet rather than jumping, cursing my broken body and my trainer in a single laboured breath.  

When I got home, I loudly professed my distaste for burpees to Smilin' Vic, using every expletive I could think of to describe this most absurd and obscene 'exercise'.  I didn't refer to them as burpees; I repeatedly used Smilin' Vic's military term for the manoeuvre (which sounds quite like 'mends and futher-buckers').

Not once during that hateful volley of meaningless curses did I stop to consider my own fear in the equation.  I just went on and on cursing, growing more negative as I injected my fear into expletives without actually acknowledging that fear.  Not once did I give actual voice to that fear.  Not once did I use the word 'fear' to describe what was welling up inside me.

And the next day, I woke up sore.  Sore and triumphant.  Oddly energised.  Oddly optimistic.  Yes, I'd struggled.  Yes, I'd been embarrassed.  Yes, I'd 'flailed'.  But I hadn't 'failed'.  I hadn't quit.  I wasn't pretty, but the burpees hadn't beat me; the burpies weren't the enemy.  

And I realised I had confronted a fear.  And survived.

I realised I didn't actually 'hate' burpees.  I didn't actually 'hate' my coach for pushing me.  I was simply afraid.  Not afraid of the burpees - afraid of what the burpees had shown me: how far I'd let myself slide, how out-of-shape I was, how weak I was, how physically run-down my body had become.  

I was scared to look silly.  I was afraid my mind couldn't control my body.  I was petrified that my will might be defeated.  I was frightened by the fact that inwardly my body had been whispering to me for years that I need to get stronger, and that it was now shouting it outwardly after years of being ignored.  I was terrified by the involuntary grunts expulsed from my lungs.  I cringed at the knots in my guts.  I recoiled at my inflexibility, at the burn in every muscle.  I was horrified at the sweat pouring off my brow and from the crooks in my arms.

I was terrified anyone might see me and laugh.  

And the 'f' word, the universally recognised 'bad word', couldn't convey all that, no matter how many times I uttered it.  And it couldn't make things better.

But waking up the next morning and admitting my fear quite simply and literally erased the negativity.  I'm heading back into that gym wearing my fear like a badge.  I'm heading back into that gym ready to face that fear head-on.  I'll strike at it, I'll flail, and I'll likely waiver and once again utter a few expletives.  But I've exposed my fear.  It's way out in the open now; there's no hiding from me anymore.  It's not so strong now that it's finally been voiced.

I know that once I kill that fear, there's not a burpee that can stop me.  

I'll conquer that nastiest four-letter word yet.  

It won't be pretty. But bring it on ...