What's the good word?

It was just another evening as we congregated around the dining table, catching up on the day. My son Jordan was bursting with excitement over the long list of ‘oo’ sight and sound words he had drawn up in school.

Cashing in on his enthusiasm to do his homework without intervention, I joined him in the exercise. He started chanting “cool, tool…” My daughter picked up the chant “school, stool, drool.” Not to be left out of what was becoming a solemn ritual of choric chants, I crooned ecstatically “moo, coo, zoo...” Lost in a trance, I droned on till my daughter put brakes on my descent to the ridiculous with an exaggerated whisper, “I’m surprised at you!” Humph! Jordan giggled at my sheepish and chastened look and bashed on heroically to complete an impressive list of monosyllabic “oo” words.

The next task was to make sentences with the listed words. My son, a strategist who devises ingenious short cuts to homework declared, “I’m going to make 10 sentences with 20 words.” I could sense the possibility of a war of words as word games bring out the competitive beast in us. “My school is cool”, the hip youngster proclaimed.”

My daughter followed, with a glint in her eye, “The crook shook in the brook”. Not to be out done, I gleefully nipped in “The fool fell off a stool into the pool”. A dismissive “That’s a bad word” interrupted my drift into the poetic challenges of eye rhyme, alliteration, and consonance. My son sternly declared “You can’t use a bad word in a sentence”.  What’s the bad word? I demanded. “Fool” he said.

I was stunned. When had my eight- year-old picked up this heightened sensitivity? I was acutely conscious now of those many times I’d rent the air with some colourful words. My curiosity at this sense of righteousness, made me ask rather bluntly,” Why is ‘fool’ a bad word”?  He sighed and with a dramatic shrug of his little shoulders explained, “Well…It’s rude!” “And… because God didn’t make any fools”. That was indeed a comforting thought after having had an ear full of the divine jingle, “Oh, what fools these mortals be!”

I explained, “In Shakespeare’s time, a clown or jester was often called ‘Fool’.” He quipped, “In Shakespeare’s time they weren’t very smart. A clown who can make people laugh can’t be a fool”. He’s clever! Timidly I ventured, “Anymore “bad” words? “Yes”, as he drew from a mental list -- “idiot’, ‘stupid’, ‘useless’ and ‘shut up’!

As I went to bed that night I thought of all the noise in corporate speak about avoiding labels. Here was my little conscience keeper with his clear, humane view of the world, who had discovered a simple yet powerful way to build people rather than break them.  “For such is the kingdom of heaven,” I mused. My son had shown me a place I had long forgotten, mired in the darker and harsher adult world.  He had had the last word that day, after all. And it was “good”.

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