"To be too certain of anything is the beginning of bigotry." -- Novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah

Sunday, March 24, 2013

What's the Worst Four-Letter Word?

     What's the dirtiest word you can think of, the one that's most negative, that produces the most self-destructive behavior?

     It's not the F-word, that's for sure. After all, the F-word is nothing but a crude term for what can be a loving act and exhilarating experience, a connection that is responsible for all life as we know it. Not one of us would be here without the F-word.

     Maybe the R-word is the worst. It is the cruel, ugly, violent version of the F-word.

     Another candidate might be Hell. Although it's generally considered a fairly mild curse word -- I even heard my mother say it once or twice! -- it in fact refers to the worst condition, the worst situation, that the human mind can imagine. Some people soften it and say, "Heck." I remember when my very proper fifth-grade teacher got frustrated or mad, she would smile knowingly and say, "Oh, Hades!"

     But from my experience, the worst four letters put together in the English language is the word, "Cool."

As cool as ice
Cool as a cucumber
     No other word has led people to do crazier things. In the effort to be "cool," people undermine their health, sabotage their careers, destroy their relationships and compromise every other aspect of their lives.

     You don't think so? So why did you start smoking all those years ago?

     A few young women may have started smoking to lose weight (although the only reason they wanted to lose weight was to be cool). I started smoking to keep up with my older brother and his friends. They were soooo cool, I could barely stand it.

     It took me two decades to quit smoking entirely, after many attempts, many false starts, and years and years of "cheating." All that work -- and possibly shortening my life -- just because when I was 15 years old I was trying to be cool.

     How many teenagers start drinking because they think it's cool? By the time I got to college, it wasn't cool to drink anymore. It was cool to take drugs. It was kind of cool to smoke marijuana, but the real cool kids took speed or mescaline. Fortunately, I was never cool enough to try the hard drugs. But I had a few friends who did -- and it didn't do them any good.

     I admit there is a positive aspect to coolness. Playing sports is usually considered cool, and many aspects of sports are good for us. In a few, select groups it's considered cool to be smart or talented. But how many young people want to be writers or actors or musicians, because they think it's cool -- and then end up disappointed, unemployed and scrambling to get their lives back on track when they're 30?

     How many people drive gas-guzzling, air-polluting SUVs or high-performance sports cars, because (whether they admit it or not) they think it's cool?

     How many people end up in bad relationships because they think the person is cool, or hang around with mean, nasty people because they're the in-crowd?

Coolest of them all
     I remember when I was a kid, playing the disaffected youth personified by James Dean was considered cool. That never did me any good, I can tell you. Later, maybe it was Jim Morrison, Janice Joplin or Keith Moon. But I know you're not as cool as they were, because if you were, you wouldn't still be around.

     Remember Karen Carpenter? She wanted to be so cool, and so skinny, that she starved herself to death. Okay, now I'm getting a little far afield. But isn't there some element of anorexia, as well as other behavioral diseases, that stems from people wanting to be more beautiful, more loved ... more cool?

     Trying to be cool leads many of us to do stupid things -- sometimes they're funny, sometimes they turn out to be tragic. But one advantage of growing older, I think, is that we can give up trying to be cool. Although, why else am I on facebook? So maybe I'm wrong.

     Which reminds me of the time, back when I was in 8th grade . . . hmmm, I don't know if I want to tell that story. Maybe next time.


Linda Myers said...

Yes, it was very cool to smoke. Both times. I smoked for four years in college, quit for 17 years, then picked it up again for four years. The second time was very, very hard to quit, in spite of remembering how my father died of emphysema at 57.

Even now, after over 20 years, a cigarette sounds kind of cool every now and then.

Olga said...

Fortunately, we have such a vast advertising industry to keep us all up to date on what is cool.

DJan said...

My mother used to swear, using words like "damnation." I wondered why she was damning the nation until I understood it was a single word. :-)

I smoked for a long time and really missed it for many years. And yes, it was cool to smoke. Two decades later I could barely walk up a flight of stairs without stopping to take a breath. Today I know how bad they were! :-)

Meryl Baer said...

In my golden years I cannot keep up with what is cool. By the time I jump on a bandwagon it is uncool. Now I just do what I want to do - or not, cool or not.

schmidleysscribblins,wordpress.com said...

The dirtiest four letter word is work. Ha Ha.

As for those other words like the f-word, they are only vulgar because the Latin word vulgar means common. Sometimes you hear a person say...that's so common!! These words were banned from polite speech because the lower class used them. This is discrimination.

Much better to say fornicate...right??

Many "bad" words are Dutch and stem from the Anglo-Dutch wars, i.e. fukken, shitten, etc. Of course it was the English who decided they were bad.

My favorite bit of hypocrisy involves the word Ass. An ass is a little animal, not a bad word, and is found in the Bible in many places. Dianne

Douglas said...

What's a 4 letter word for "double bogey?"

Lorna said...

You've read my mind through and through about COOL and how destructive is the will towards coolness.

On the other hand, you have written it before I have, so I will have to try not to repeat what you have written! It is definitely not cool to copy.


Dick Klade said...

I stopped my "cool" smoking 13 years ago and still get the urge to light up, especially when watching a graphic public service commercial explaining why smokers should quit.

Must be some sort of cool wisdom here about giving up a destructive activity, but I can't identify it.

Galen Pearl said...

I just shake my head when I think of all the crazy things I did to be cool. Most were just silly, but I did some dangerous things, too. I'm so grateful that I did not do serious harm to myself or anyone else. I think I kept a whole platoon of guardian angels busy for years.

This is an interesting post. I could not guess the word until you revealed it. Suspense! And right on target.

avenueroo said...

The 4 letter word would be "rude", so many people are and surprisingly so many more are not.

Nice being a senior and not giving a (4 letter word) about cool.

Anonymous said...

POOR... We live in the most incredible country. The most powerful, the country where people will do anything to come here to live and work. We as a country give money to other 3rd world countries for food and water and even worse give them guns to fight wars that we have no business in. But we sit here with so many people living below poverty level. We don't teach our own how to support themselves.

Halina Goldstein said...

I'd say that the most negative word in our culture is DEAD. Not because death is negative in itself - it is completely natural - but because our culture denies the existence of it. So when the time comes when we have to face it - when we lose a spouse or a friend for example - we are not prepared and suffer not only because of the loss itself, but also because of the enormous load of fear, pain and confusion within us and within the people around us, all caused by lack of awareness of death as part of life.