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Top 8 Taboo Words

27 February 2009 4 Comments

Do some words drive you up the wall?

Are there things you hear or say that trigger a negative, maybe even an angry, reaction?

From violent words come violent acts

I once heard a trainer of the police claim that 90% of all acts of physical violence are preceded by an exchange of words. The police in his country are taught how to calm a situation, in the first instance, using only words. I’m not talking here about an angry tone of voice but about the words themselves and the thinking they reveal.

Since I started looking closely a few years ago at how I communicate, I discovered the power of words to trigger violence to myself or others. Unless I’m very conscious, judgements, evaluations, demands, generalisations all have some role in sowing the seeds of violence.

To fulfil my marginal obsession with lists – here’s my personal Top 8:

‘Taboo words you say to me at your peril’

In no particular order …

1      Must (or ‘have to’)

I hear “You must …” as a clear attempt to restrict my freedom to choose for myself. Behind this word is a message there’s no choice in the matter and, if I don’t obey, some unpleasant consequences will be sent down on me by way of punishment. When I do submit to things I ‘must’ do, then it’s always with a heavy energy. I much prefer the energy of choice.

My immediate reaction to “You must …” is invariably to rebel and do exactly the opposite. If you know this, of course, then you have a very powerful way to manipulate me – so I’m selectively rebellious.

Favourite response – “I don’t have to do anything!” (spoken in the voice of a sarcastic adolescent)

2      Should (or ‘ought’ or ’supposed to’ etc.)

Closely related to word 1 but a bit more subtle and manipulative. This implies I can choose, but if I don’t I’m crazy or, at best, stupid. After all everyone else knows this is what I should do!

My usual reaction is that of the rebel (and again that’s selective!).

Favourite response – “Don’t use the ‘S-word’ with me!

3      But

Not to be confused with ‘butt’ which I quite enjoy anatomically and as a word. The three letter version is usually just a sneaky way of disagreeing. Listen out for “Yes, but …” and I guarantee what follows next is either proof that I’m wrong or an excuse of some kind.

Favourite response – ‘Please, don’t stick your ‘but’ in my face!

4      Never

This is such an incredibly long time and disturbingly infinite that it just makes no sense. I find it especially annoying when used as a criticism, as in, for example, “You never wash the dishes”.

Favourite response – “That’s so unfair! I washed them on 15th April 1992

5       Cucumber

You may be thinking ‘*??!**?? ..huh?’ and I don’t blame you as it’s not strictly a taboo word. I really can’t stand the taste of cucumber and just hearing the word makes me want to vomit. Best not to use it when I’m around.

Favourite response – “Take that thing and shove it where the sun don’t shine” (or improvise on the basic theme)

6      Cannot

I accept there are some things that are just impossible and if this word was reserved only for those, I’d have no problem. Mainly it’s used as a reason for not wanting to do something because there’s a better option – as such it is often a blatant lie.

If I ask you out on a date and you reply “I can’t!” You CAN, but you don’t want to. Fine, but just be honest!

Another use is in the mouth of someone playing the victim –  “I can’t do it!” (said with an appropriate whine) – which is just as bad!

Favourite response – “Do you mean you are not capable or that you don’t want to?”

7     Sorry

I’m all for admitting my mistakes, learning from them and expressing this from my heart. ‘Sorry’ can be a useful shorthand but often it’s said with a negative, ‘poor me’ energy that’s more like self abuse than genuine regret.

Favourite response – “Don’t dump your sorrow on me. I want to know what you learned”

8      Hate

I find this such a strong word of violence I get nervous whenever I hear it.

Favourite response – Run away as fast as I can.

You may think some of the suggested responses are rather immature and not in keeping with the theme of nonviolence. All I can say is – I completely agree!


  • Lesa said:

    It was dark when I woke. This is a ray of susnhine.

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    I forgot Val McDermid; also Ann Cleeves who writes mysteries set in the Shetland Islands (White Nights, etc.) Did I mention Rhys Bowen with the Welsh settings?

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