Friday, May 08, 2009

Jerked Around

“Jerk” is my go-to word.

You know - the word you use when you’re really mad at someone or want to express extreme dismay or displeasure.

I don’t know how long I’ve been using it, but I sure didn’t learn it at my parents’ knees. My parents never said a word against anyone. In fact, growing up, I believed my parents just LOVED everybody, and everybody just LOVED my parents.

It wasn’t until I was an adult that Mom finally disclosed some of the people who were actually quite mean, hurtful, or just plain nasty to my parents. I never would have guessed.

Even now, Mom doesn’t use any kind of strong language. If she is forced, she may say (and I’ve only heard it a handful of times) that she “doesn’t care” for that person. That’s it. That is the full measure of Mom’s wrath.

My dad always stressed the importance of a fully developed vocabulary. He thought swearing or strong language was “lazy.” He would always say, “There are better ways – and words - with which to get your point across.”

Still, sometimes people would make me so mad I’d have to say SOMETHING. After a while, I realized “jerk” worked for most situations.

I remember sitting in Mr. T’s (not THE Mr. T) Bible class at the beginning of eighth grade. Eighth grade was a banner year for me. It was the first year without Josh, and I was no longer a dead woman walking. Entering my classroom was truly exhilarating now that I’d dropped the nauseating sense of fear I’d been living with since fifth grade.

Mr. T was a new teacher, so I really felt like I was getting a fresh start.

Even all these years later, I can still recall Mr. T’s most memorable Bible class. It was on “the appearance of evil.”

He talked to us about how the motivation behind our actions, not just our actions, was what mattered to God. He gave an interesting example. He said if we hit our thumb with a hammer and said, “Doggone!” but were actually thinking God’s name in vain that it was still a sin. He also expressed his dislike over the word “doggone,” feeling it was an inappropriate word to use, anyway.

John raised his hand and said that if he hit his thumb with a hammer, he didn’t know if he’d be able to think fast enough to say the right thing. He also said “Nobody says ‘doggone’ anymore, anyway.”


(Interesting side note: John eventually became a twice-convicted arsonist. So, at least we know he wasn’t yelling “doggone!” over his fires.)

Over the next hour, we talked about drinking non-alcoholic drinks, attending G-rated movies, women wearing pants, and eating candy cigarettes. All, according to Mr. T, were giving in to the “appearance of evil.”

While I wasn’t sure about all that (mostly hogwash), Mr. T’s lecture on using words seem to resonate with me. Combined with my parents’ feelings on using “strong” language, I resolved to use my words wisely in the years ahead.

You have to remember - I was coming off of my years with Josh. The only defense mechanism I’d developed during those years was my language. I was pretty verbally skilled, but so was Josh. It was easy for him to make fun of me, and if I chose to live dangerously, I could easily keep up with him.

I only remember delivering two insults to Josh. There were two things I (and everybody else) knew Josh was extremely sensitive about.

One was his height. Josh was blond-haired, blue-eyed, clear-complexioned, and charismatic, but he was short. Shorter than all the boys in our class. Shorter than some of the girls. And he hated it.

One time, he delivered a casual insult to me across an unstaffed study hall. In a show of true smart-aleckery, I calmly said, “Oh yeah? Why don’t you stand up and say that? Oh wait, you are.”

Burn. Truly fantastic burn.

He was furious, but the teacher walked in right about then, and (for once) I got away with it. Triumph tasted good.

Josh also abhorred his slightly upturned eyes. They suggested an Asian heritage somewhere along his genetic line, something Josh thought clashed with his Aryan superiority.

He’d been cracking the whip over my head all day long that particular day in seventh grade. So, when we got to study hall, I’d had it. Buoyed by my previous study hall heroics, I pointed to the map on the wall identifying different sailing vessels. One vessel as titled as a “Chinese Junk.”

“Look, Josh! They named a boat after you,” I said, valiantly.

(I realize now that was EXTREMELY racist and COMPLETELY inappropriate, but it sure hit its mark with Josh.)

I saw his fists ball at his sides, but once again, a teacher’s entrance blocked him from doing anything about it.

Later, I got a backhand cracked across my mouth and a session with his henchmen. But, I have to say, it was totally worth it, as the entire class kept cracking up about it for at least a full week afterward.

Now that I was in eighth grade and Josh was long gone, I was sure I would sail through the rest of life unencumbered. I would have no need for “jerk.”

Ah, but I was wrong.

Over the years, I’ve made “jerk” my own. When someone cuts me off in traffic, when people are rude or insensitive, or when something wriggles under my skin and irritates me to no end – all “jerks.”

When Brett does something that drives me nuts, he’s a “jerk.” I mean, it has to be a pretty serious offense, since I don’t drag the “j” word out for everything. Just when I’m worked up, and just when it matters.

A couple of years ago, I switched to “jackal,” until my friend Angie called me on it. She said, “If you’re going to say ‘jackal,’ you might as well just say the other word, since it’s obvious what you mean.”

Her reproach, delivered good-naturedly, sent me back to eighth grade where I realized Mr. T had a valid point about the appearance of evil. Thinking a swear word and saying “jackal” was me just putting a mask on my true intentions.

Being able to say that I don’t swear because I’m Christian, but then doing it in my heart is definitely giving in to the appearance of evil.

I wish I could say I’ve resolved this issue. Or that “jerk” is the worst thing I’ve ever said. (It’s not). But I’m continually working to figure out a way to incorporate my true feelings while using words that don’t kow-tow to the lowest common denominator.

If you’ve got any language secrets or have found your own resolution to this problem, I’d love to hear it.

I’m sorry this post has gone on so long. I can be a real jerk about that.

1 comment:

October said...

Well. Here in the sticks I find frequent use for the words incompetent and illiterate. Which I may overuse just a tad. Unfortunately, they are entirely too accurate in many cases.