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Thursday, 6 May 2010

Watch what you say in front of Frume Sarah, else you’re liable to be the recipient of a sermon-like rebuke.

This is nothing new. For as long back as I can recall, I’ve been that annoying dinner companion, friend, acquaintance who delievers a lesson on the power of words. Perceive that you were short-changed in some way and refer to the experience as being “gypped,” and you’ll hear all about the Gypsies (now known as the Roma people). Receive a painful admonishment and refer to the source as a “Dutch Uncle,” and you learn how that is one of several stereotypical phrases meant to put down the Dutch.

Indian-giver,” “Jewed,” “Retard.” If the expression you are using refers to a specific people, culture, religion, disability, etc, you can be certain that it is a put-down.

When I was a kid, the word “gay” suddenly took on a new usage. no longer the vernacular for “happy,” “gay” was used to label someone who was homosexual. The new usage? Stupid. Or dumb. Or uncool. Or. Or. Or. Regardless of the adjective, it was never meant as a compliment. As if the WORST thing a person could be was homosexual. And so the label became an insult.

It was about twenty years ago when that word was tossed about on the school yard. Which is why I was so surprised to hear it used just the other day. “That shirt makes him look so gay,” said the young woman.

really? REALLY?

If you mean the style of the shirt is really effeminate, then say that. (It wasn’t, by the way.) If the shirt had a homosexual slogan on it, then say that. (It didn’t.) If you mean that this kid looked really ridiculous, then say that he looked ridiculous. (He didn’t look ridiculous. The girl walking around in the fairy costime? Now SHE looked ridiculous…) And if you mean that the guy is a jerk, then say that. (Which you typically cannot tell just by looking.)

Words have meaning. They can build up and they can tear down. And in this case, it was my respect that was leveled.

26 Comments leave one →
  1. HSaboMilner permalink
    Thursday, 6 May 2010 10:29 am

    What did you say?
    I am the same way, by the way, and have had to work very hard to teach my children the proper way to speak, without using offensive vocabulary that unfortunately seems to be OK to use these days.

    And how can a shirt have a sexual orientation??!

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Monday, 17 May 2010 9:15 pm

      I gave a gentle lesson to the young woman. Who insisted that it was “totally cool” to use the word. However, I later learned that she received a less-gentle rebuke from a teenager in our community. I think the message may have been stronger coming from one of the “cool” kids!

  2. Zach Moonitz permalink
    Thursday, 6 May 2010 10:48 am

    Thank you for reminding us of how words can hurt and with the recent death of that bullied teen, I hope that we teach our children to be tolerant.. Well said and again thank you!!!

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Monday, 17 May 2010 9:16 pm

      Language is so powerful. Yet it is all too easy to forget that our words really can have an impact on others.

  3. Thursday, 6 May 2010 10:49 am

    Thank you for saying that. I corrected my husband’s young cousins from saying “gay” instead of “jerk” and also my young nieces for using “retard” instead of “jerk.” They ALL admonished ME for being an old fart who knew NOTHING. I was done with them all at that point. The retard comment especially offends me since my son is cognitively challenged and is autistic. I point this out as gently as I can to offenders (mostly adults really) and they still don’t get it. They think it’s okay as long as *I* understand what they REALLY meant. I really DON’T and when it happens on FB you can be assured the offender gets a warning and then I cull the list. The rest? I wash my hands of them. My son and everyone else who identifies as a homosexual or as a challenged individual don’t deserve the abuse.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Monday, 17 May 2010 9:18 pm

      Yeah, I’m pretty sensitive to the “retard” thing for the same reason. He is a daily reminder to me that we just never know what other people have going on in their lives and so we ought to speak with the utmost caution.

  4. Shellie Halprin permalink
    Thursday, 6 May 2010 12:57 pm

    I, too, grew up with works like gay, retard, retarded and lame, all of which meant stupid (read: less than cool). I have definitely heard my kids saying these words too, the inappropriateness of which I’ve brought to their attention.

    One of the more popular words among teenage boys today is “douche”, as in “That guy is such a douche”. I’m not sure it is offensive as much as it is disgusting (the imagery…).

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Monday, 17 May 2010 9:18 pm

      It is such a gross word. I don’t know why people are using it…

  5. Thursday, 6 May 2010 2:26 pm

    I think that all of you will enjoy the Wanda Sykes “That’s So Gay” video ( It is part of the

    I only just went to the website now, prompted by the video, which is a year old. They have a ticker saying how often the words “fag”, “so gay”, and “dyke” are used on twitter today (I’m assuming it updates every day).

    Although I will say that in some parts of town, there really does seem to be a gay aesthetic, so although I would never say it, I can understand why a shirt could look gay. Not gay as in stupid, but gay as in homosexual. But of course, I also think that Jerrry Seinfeld “looks Jewish”.

    (Note: using British English punctuation rules here.)

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Monday, 17 May 2010 9:23 pm

      This is a GREAT website. Thanks, PG!!!

      The whole “look Jewish” is another topic for another day.

  6. threadzofblue permalink
    Thursday, 6 May 2010 5:27 pm

    Thank you – this is something that needed to be said.

    I found your blog through a link at the URJ blog, and thought I’d stop by and check it out. Nice work, and I look forward to following it. (I’m a new Jewish blogger myself).

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Monday, 17 May 2010 9:25 pm

      I’m so glad that you found your way here AND took the time to comment. I’ll be over by you AFTER the chag this week.

      Moadim l’simcha!!!

  7. Thursday, 6 May 2010 9:16 pm

    This is definitely an issue with me and I’m glad others also point out, whether to their children or others, that this kind of language is offensive and inappropriate.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Monday, 17 May 2010 9:26 pm

      It can make for some uncomfortable moments, but isn’t that what we are called to do as God’s partners??

  8. Friday, 7 May 2010 7:36 am

    I am also the same way. My father was very strict about ethnic jokes. “They are not funny.” He stated in his serious voice with his serious face. I “got it.” And I internalized it.

    I find it much harder to communicate this value to my kids. They constantly use words that they hear used by others than have ethnic overtones. Just like most people do not know that “gypped” is an ethnic slur against gypsies, my kids don’t realize the ethnic bigotry of typical Israeli words that “everyone” uses.

    It is very frustrating; I am constantly chastising them and telling them that those words are unacceptable in my home.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Monday, 17 May 2010 9:28 pm

      There is something about the serious voice and face that just makes point. You just know that it is something really important.

      Given that I live chutz laaretz, would you mind sharing some of the slurs and their ethnic origins? I don’t think I know any… Or if I do, I certainly don’t know their history.

  9. Friday, 7 May 2010 9:37 am

    You are so right-on, FrumeSarah. I have been fighting this battle for a long time – “gypped” seems to be the one that i hear the most but I’m super-sensitive to whatever, in particular, my own children say. I will NOT tolerate anything that even remotely seems like a derogatory statement and then we have lengthy discussions about it. My poor kids….then again, God willing they’ll grow up to be sensitive, appropriate, wonderful adults!

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Monday, 17 May 2010 9:29 pm

      Our poor kids indeed. Everything is a teachable moment and has a lengthy discussion. The stories they will tell…

  10. Friday, 7 May 2010 1:03 pm

    this was excellent! words do have so much meaning and power and can be used to threaten, bully, etc. the earlier we teach this to our children, the less of a chance that they’d be *that* person who inadvertently hurts someone else. thanks.

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Monday, 17 May 2010 9:29 pm

      I hate to think that one of my kids would ever be *that* person. Which is why I’m always on them about EVERYTHING.

  11. Robyn permalink
    Friday, 7 May 2010 6:37 pm

    I KNEW we were sisters in spirit!

    I stop people ALL THE TIME for “gay” “gypped” “retarded” “jewed” and “JAP”

    Tokechah Baby!

    Shabbat Shalom!

    • Frume Sarah permalink*
      Monday, 17 May 2010 9:30 pm

      So true! Maybe we learned about this stuff at the same place??

  12. Steve Skubinna permalink
    Sunday, 1 August 2010 9:33 am

    I’m not so sure about “Indian giver.” I have never heard any suggestion that American Indians were likely to snatch back a gift – very much the opposite, in fact.

    I wonder if the term actually applies to the European descended settlers, who continually signed treaties granting the Indians lands and rights, only to revoke them when it became convenient. In other words, it refers to giving something to somebody (Indian) that you reserve the right to rescind.

  13. Monday, 2 August 2010 2:32 pm

    This is in response to Steve. My understanding is as follows: Indians didn’t believe that anyone could own land – it belonged to everyone. Therefore, while some tribes might have accepted money or trinkets for a piece of land, they didn’t actually leave it. If anyone knows better, please let me know.


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