Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Does Banning a Word Work?

We're supposed to ban the word Bossy from our vocabulary. The Girl Scouts say so, and for a few days, so did the bottom of my Google home page (which I didn't grab a screen shot of). Sure, there are discenting opinions on the topic (as well as haters being haters), but I wasn't strongly convinced by either side.

And then I realized that growing up my parents banned the word Boring from our vocabulary. It essentially became a cuss word and was not to be spoken. People were boring, my parents would remark, not situations. If you've run out of things to do, it's your responsibility to get creative and find something new to tackle.

This philosophy definitely became embedded in my life, and to this day I cringe when people say they are bored. When we were foster parents to a 7 year old, he quickly learned that the B-word was off limits.

More importantly, the ban forced me to change the way I view circumstances. There's always something new and interesting to do and explore, even if its not obvious. It's a wonderful perspective, and one I'm glad my parents taught me.

So yes, banning a word does work. And while I can't think of an experience where someone was labeled 'bossy,' I can see how it could be one of the crutch words that hold us back. Just like that other B word ('boring' people, I'm talking about the word 'boring').

#BanBossy? I'm in. Mostly.

There's one big catch to my reasoning above: I think banning a word is especially useful for children, not less so adults. The benefits I received from banning 'boring' from my childhood vocabulary were triggered only because it forced me to adopt some new habits. So yeah, BanBossy on the playground and in daycare, and help produce those new habits. But I'm not less convinced this is useful exercise for the boardroom and water cooler.

Update: Thinking more about this, what about the terms Geek and Nerd? At one point, these were clearly hurtful labels, and yet, at some point their definition turned into a badge of honor. If I was a self-proclaimed Fashion Geek or Reality TV Nerd (which I'm most definitely not either of these), you'd understand that I was a master of these topics.

Perhaps bossy needs the same treatment? We've already got the Like a Boss (careful, that link contains some sketchy stuff) meme, how much of a leap is it to turn bossy into a good thing?

I have no idea how you do this. I just know that language matters, and I'm all for having parents, educators and others shape the way kids use it.

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