Emphatic words, the things you just want to let fly, don't need to be ugly. They can be a lot more fun if they're silly.
I've been remembering how my sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. James, would get exasperated and want to let loose one of those choice words. But she was a strong lady, dedicated to teaching us "values," and she was determined not to be foul-mouthed.
Unless you were in Homewood, Ill., in the 1970s, you'll never guess what she said, so I'll tell you:
She said "Applesauce!"
We sixth-graders soon knew the difference between "Oh, applesauce! The key-eating purse ate my room keys again!" and "Applesauce! Sit down right now!" It was the difference between applesauce with jelly in it on a hot day and the warm applesauce you'd get when that was all the "solid food" your doctor would allow.
Applesauce was back to being just an item on my grown-up grocery list before I discovered how Mrs. James must have done it. In the '90s, I was listening to WNIB-FM's radio reruns program, "Those Were the Days," a four-hour-long festival of radio comedy, drama and mystery from the 1930s and 1940s. One of my favorite comedies, "Fibber McGee and Molly," was about a goofy married couple.
When "Fibber" told a tale that was just too tall to believe, "Molly" had a reaction I knew immediately: "Oh, applesauce, McGee!"
I flinched at first, but I soon recognized it as a catchphrase -- the "What you talkin' about, Willis?" of its time.
Mrs. James had saved up "Applesauce!" much longer than I've saved up "What you talkin' about, Willis?" (She didn't have the benefit of VCRs or Antenna TV reruns, either.)
But she knew a good idea when she heard it. The emphasis is what makes it powerful, not the foul language.
Actually, the lack of foul language may be an extra secret here. The silliness, the ability to laugh instead of saying something angry, and the sheer unexpectedness of it can defuse a great deal.
So take a word, any word, and throw it out into the world in place of something fouler.
One recommendation, though: Don't choose something you like eating. Hearing "applesauce" in the wrong places in sixth grade kept me from eating it for years afterwards!
For more fun with words, stop by the Margaret Serious page on Facebook.
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