Vocabulary Lessons

February 10, 2012

Mom had a set of ‘trigger words’ that she loved to use with us kids to (a) improve our vocabulary (b) help us identify errant behaviors and (c) nip them in the bud.

I can’t say how effective her nipping proved long-term; but to this day I am readily and instinctively able to associate so-called ‘bad’ behaviors with these words (…and I then instinctively and duly ignore any negative typecasting.)

To wit:

. ROMP.  Vis-a-vis Mom’s Flowchart of Terminology, it was fine to Play. Quietly. (…and I note: ‘play’ and ‘quietly’ are contradictory terms.) But ‘romp’ – particularly when enacted in a ‘madcap fashion’ – simply resulted in Too Much Joy. (Diane’s Note: There is no such thing.) Resulting in Broken Objects, Loud Screaming (on all sides), and possible insanity (…in my case. Yet to be actually proven, so that joins others on the ‘hypothesis’ side of Diane’s Flowchart.)

. ROWDY. It was distinctly ‘unladylike’ to be Rowdy. But unfortunately (for Mom), the term ‘demure play’ simply wasn’t in my vocabulary.

. UNLADYLIKE. Of all the words on this list, this was most often applied to me. Since to my mind Scratchy Lacy Dresses were most commonly affiliated with ‘Ladylike’, I had NO issues with the ‘UN’ category that I apparently fell into (…or slid into on a mud slick), blue jeans and all. Note: ‘shame’ was seldom on my list of experiences (…unless ‘shame’ translates to “I’m sorry I got caught”…)

. SILLY. It was fine to be funny. But Mom’s definition of ‘Funny Gone Overboard’ was “silly”. Which to my mind simply fell into her very dubious “too much fun” category (= Arguably Impossible.)

. MESSY. That was a biggie, for me. Girls apparently weren’t supposed to be such. But I maintain I was born in a mudpuddle and just never quite evolved to crawling away from them. There was only one purpose and application for MUD to my mind, and that was closely associated with ROMP. (Both of which neatly resided on the ‘plus’ side of The Better Flowchart According to Diane.)

. SASSY. (Also known as “sass back”. Usually proceeded by the descriptor verb “don’t”.) In those days “assertive” was NOT on the ‘plus’ side; particularly when associated with Girls. But let it be noted: yesterday’s negative “sass” is today’s positive “assertive”: how times have changed! I simply and obviously was born too soon. And operated at a level ahead of my time. Mom.

. INSOLENT. Admittedly this was a challenging word for my age group (6ish). I had NO clue on this one, other than that it seemed to regularly be applied to me (according to Mom). So when Teacher asked my class members to pick “a word that best describes you” waay back in 1st grade, I do recall standing tall and proud when I loudly presented my personal Big Descriptive Word, “INSOLENT”. Which, puzzlingly, earned me a chair-in-the-corner session to “reflect on my choice of words” (today known as ‘time out’. FURTHERMORE, said reflection produced no further insights. Teachers are SO dumb).

. DEFIANT. Star Trek (decades later) would have this name grace one of their starships; but I maintain the true origins of the word DEFIANT can be directly attributed to my birth and subsequent parental encounters. Usually paired with the descriptor STUBBORNLY, DEFIANT pretty well summed up the state of affairs surrounding my entire childhood. (When I got a bit older, Mom increased my vocabulary with its synonym OBSTINATE.)

. FEARLESS. Today, it’s a plus. But in my youth, it definitely lived on the ‘minus side’ of Mom’s Flowchart of Terminology. Apparently that was yet ANOTHER of my (many) characteristics that Girls were Not Supposed to Be. ‘Fearless’ was said in a condemning manner and was often paired with the admonition to “go to your room”. (NOTE: as “go to your room” was presented in a nearly-identical manner as an order to the Family Dog to “go lay in your corner”, we two often found ourselves slinking off together, proverbial tails between legs: compatriots united under the Flag of Shame. [Theoretically, anyway, on the ‘shame’ piece. MOM’s theory, to be clear.])

. …and speaking of Shame, just add SHAMELESS to the blossoming terminology discussion. Let’s put it this way: you can’t necessarily feel SHAME when you’ve been simply having a BALL ROWDILY ROMPING with a distinctly DEFIANT, STUBBORN and UNLADYLIKE display of energy, playing MESSILY in mud with nerve enough to be FEARLESS of any threatened consequences … and even proving SASSY and INSOLENT when caught. (To my mind, there was nothing wrong with ANY of these behaviors or my logical responses to ‘getting caught’*) (*QUERY: …is it actually ‘getting caught’ when you’re really being pretty blatant about the entire buffet of playtime choices? Doesn’t ‘getting caught’ imply actual hiding was taking place; not ‘in your face activities’?? 47+ years later, I rest my case. Mom. [Whoopsie, I’m sorry – I’m being INSOLENT yet again. Some early habits you can just never lose.])

Now, others may experience underlying angst when these early childhood vocabulary words are mentioned.

Me: I just recall the GOOD TIMES experienced by any and all activities linked to these Words of Power.

So just mention my ‘trigger words’ (‘insolent’, ‘fearless’, ‘messy’, ‘romp’, ‘rowdy’, ‘unladylike’, ‘stubborn’, ‘defiant’, ‘silly’ or ‘sassy’) and if I inexplicably and involuntarily smile in response – you now know why!

Sassily yours –


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