The Seven Words I Can’t Use Anymore

(And It Makes Me Mad)


Before any impressionable younger (experience-challenged) readers get excited, none of these are the seven words that once upon a time could not be repeated on television. I’m not sure if this is a lament for the natural mutation of language or an ode to a politically correct lexicon. You decide.

There is one other caveat. Correctness is in a terrible state of flux. By the time this column appears, all the words may have changed again. Bomb shelters (underground symbols of the fearful manipulation of other-thinking nations) became swimming pools (environmentally appropriate aquatic exercise centers) a few decades ago. The millenial milestone (measured from a date Before the Current Era) has passed. Today that tumult has turned inward. Today we might hear a gentleman with a conservative agenda called a fossilized futzwuffle by a lady of a liberal persuasion. Does that mean the lady is a tramp? This column may cook my personal goose.

Ed Note: some of the names have been changed
to protect privacy. The street names haven’t.

Gay Lombard was a high school classmate. She lived up to her name: cheerful, engaging, involved in good works. The main intersection in a small Pennsylvania city is the corner of High and Gay. Except the long blue nose of Standards and Practices hasn’t allowed us to get higher since Ed Sullivan presented the Doors.

Gay was once a delightful word but because kindergartners titter, certain congressmen grow red faced, and most others with the mentality of five-year-olds get flustered when they hear it, many of us have forsaken gaiety. That’s a loss to Mr. Penn’s sylvan commonwealth, to Ms. Lombard, and to the language.

Vermont now has two cool “oldies” stations. One, serving the Champlain Valley, doesn’t quite reach our friends in North Puffin, but does play neat car tunes for them whenever they drive south of the county seat. The North Country station hits every hill and valley in the county, giving folks less reason to travel. Oldie in this sense is, of course, merely a statement of chronology that relates solely to the musical era of the baby boomers. My dad thinks oldies means big bands, but we can’t convince any radio magnates of that, so he suffers through the Beatles, and Jerry Lee Lewis, and the Sensations. We who grew up as musically challenged baby boomers enjoy the tunes. No one over the age of five would dream of using the word to describe anything (or anyone) calendar-measurement challenged. Not even my mom who complains whenever I have a birthday.

The oldies station played the O’Kaysions’ I’m a Girl Watcher. One of the songs of the sixties with the usual intricate melody and complex lyrics:

“I’m a girl watcher.
“I’m a girl watcher.
“Watchin’ girls go by.
“My my my.”

Liz Arden scowled at me again recently for describing a colleague as “the tall girl with gray hair.”

My mom always joined the “gals” (her word, not mine) for bridge club. Your dad went out with the boys. Although mine are in their seventies (persuns-of-a-chronologically-advanced-stature), they can’t use those terms either. And the word cop best not catch us calling them oldies.

What to do? I teach a college course most semesters. Since I enlighten male and female students alike, I need an acceptable device showing my thoughtfulness when addressing the entire class. “Girls” obviously fails. “Boy” is perhaps worse. I thought guys might work, as in, “Hey guys. May I have your attention?” Honk! Wrong answer.

They told me Youse guys would be all right if I could fake a Brooklyn accent.

I suppose we could rewrite the song:

“I’m a persun-of-the-XX-chromosome-persuasion
observer, which is not to demean those who
watch persuns-of-the-XY-chromosome-persuasion
or those who don’t watch anybody at all on the
principle that the least eye contact with an
individual’s shadow invades the shadow’s domain.

“I’m a persun-of-the-XX-chromosome-persuasion
observer except for ignoring those persuns
who fear the least shadowy eye contact.

“Watchin’ persuns of any chromosomal variance go by.

“Huh huh huh?”

Do you think that changes the melody, too?

It occurs to me, in these days of political correctivity, that if boys weren’t girl watchers and girls weren’t boy watchers, there would be darned few hupersuns here to watch.

Editor’s Note: This column first appeared in the Burlington Free Press in 1996. I have made only minor updates.