I’ve Got the Keys

By Robine Jean-Pierre

Growing up, I heard Haitian Creole and English spoken interchangeably at home. My knowledge of Creole started off as a collection of simple words and phrases pertaining to cuisine, the household, and hygiene. Unfortunately, I soon developed the regrettable habit of hearing a question or statement in Haitian Creole and responding in English. As a result, I’ve always understood more Creole than I can actually speak.

Taking up French in sixth grade drastically increased my Creole vocabulary. Many people I’ve come across expected it to be the other way around–in other words, that knowing Creole first would have helped me learn French. (My eighth grade French teacher used to exclude me from competitive games during class because she thought I had an unfair advantage.) In truth, my analytical mind started to make connections between the original French terms and the cognates that derived from these. For example, du riz in French means “[some/of] rice” and I realized that this was where the Creole diri came from. (If you’re interested in more on this, consider reading  An Nou Palé – Let’s Talk.)

By the end of high school, I had taken French for six years and Spanish for about two (just for fun, since I loved it so much), so that means I have four languages under my belt. However, I’d be lying if I said I could speak each one (aside from English) 100% fluently! This fact embarrasses me, and I often ask myself, Is it the flawed education system? Is it me? Did I ever really learn?

The answer is simple: PRACTICE. For all my theory and knowledge and textbook smarts, I have not always taken advantage of real-life opportunities to practice–and by this I mean live, on-the-spot, spoken communication. I figure that if I’m not speaking Creole as fluently as I’d like to, it’s because of my own timidity, but most heritage speakers have the same struggle. I was always afraid that I would be mocked for pronouncing something wrong or fumbling a sentence, which kept me from trying. (Being condescending is somewhat ingrained in Haitian culture, so my fears were well-grounded.)

It bothers me that I am familiar, yet not fluent, with these three languages other than English (LOTEs); but what I need is to get bothered enough to actually do something about it. Plus, nothing pushes you more than having a sense of “need” rather than just “want.” I’ve been considering multiple measures: getting language-learning apps like DuoLingo; finding friends who speak the desired language and striking up a conversation; and replying in Creole to my family’s questions (which, of course, would take a whole lot of guts).

For French and Creole, especially, I know that most of the words are stored up in my brain somewhere, so it’s just a matter of excavating them. My worst nightmare would be to lose what it took so many years to learn, especially since it’s harder to learn new things as you get older. In the future, I hope to travel to communities that speak any of the three LOTEs, and be able to communicate comfortably. Languages are like keys that open the doors to other worlds, and I wish to hold onto those keys as tightly as I can.

Racism or Racism?

By Robine Jean-Pierre

The other night, during my week away for Thanksgiving, I sat down with my two sisters and cousin to watch a brief BBC documentary on Netflix called “KKK: The Fight for White Supremacy.” When my cousin first recommended it, I had felt a bit hesitant and reluctant, not wanting to go to bed with angry, uneasy thoughts swimming around in my head. Seeing as it was only fifty something minutes long, and the only complaint anyone else had was “it probably won’t teach us anything we don’t already know,” I gave it my mostly undivided attention.

The interviewer, Dan Murdoch, spoke to active members of the Ku Klux Klan, namely the Loyal White Knights chapter. (To be honest, every time I write “KKK” I feel like I’m writing a curse word or “666” or something. I almost expect the Internet to report me or highlight it.) There is a lot I could say about the interesting remarks they made. What stood out to me the most were the blatant contradictions the interviewees made. All of their comments revolved around a central theme of preserving their heritage and expressing pride in their white identity. This sounds so innocent, at first; after all, other races are allowed to do this without being questioned. No one has a problem with Latino Pride or Black Pride. However, this changes once you hear their outrageous claims about Black people being savage and uneducated, bringing drugs to the community and increasing the crime rate. The interviewer asked different members whether they considered themselves to be racist, and nearly everyone said no, even after making explicitly racist comments. It makes me wonder what they believe racism is.

The textbook definition for racism is:

“A belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement,usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to dominate others or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others.” (Dictionary.com)

With increased travel, globalization, and education, racism is something we are becoming more socially aware of, and it is becoming more publicly condemned. Most people, even those who are unwittingly racist, identify racism as something negative, something undesirable. “Racists are bad people, and I am not a bad person,” they think to themselves. Very rarely do people want to admit that they are racist, even when it is clear that they are. That is why you can have some members of the KKK say that they are not racist, when we know that the KKK is entirely race-fueled. Part of the problem is a heavy, surreal ignorance clouding many of the secluded towns where the KKK thrives. In these communities, White people could go most of their lives without ever seeing a Black person, let alone talk to one. It’s extremely easy to make an enemy of the unknown. 

People in general have this self-preservation instinct that is not just physical, but psychological as well. We will do just about anything to defend our opinion, behavior, emotions, etc. One defense mechanism we use all the time is wordplay. We begin to scrutinize words, change the definitions to suit our standing, create all these technicalities and nuances in order to weasel our way out of responsibility. Many of the members of the KKK justified themselves by doing just that. One person said of a ritual they practice, “We don’t burn crosses, we light them, to represent that Jesus is the light of the world.” (I could go on a whole sidebar as to why this statement is so problematic. To keep it simple, Jesus Christ is supposed to be a pure, righteous figure, so of course, putting his name into anything would supposedly validate their actions.) Making that distinction between “burning” and “lighting” is also a way of making what they do sound less threatening.

The climax of the documentary was a KKK parade, where a Black-power group was also determined to make their presence and cause known. The KKK members were alright with using racial slurs against Blacks since even before the parade, earlier in the interview. Their excuse was a common case of “fight fire with fire”: “If they can call us ‘cracker,’ then we can call them ‘n***er.’” One of the Loyal White Knight leaders explained how he had been called many harsh names in a mostly Black school growing up.

By no means do I have the cure for racism, but what I can say is that we need to take some responsibility on a local level. Stop blaming the other side, whoever that “other” may be; stop focusing on the past; stop playing word games and beating around the bush. To coin Shakespeare, racism by any other name would smell just as rotten. We need to be honest with each other, facing head-on those residual, stale beliefs passed down by experience and our ancestors, if we could ever even hope to change our world.

“Let them be just that, our ancestors beliefs, not ours. Let them be something we read about in textbooks and not what we see in the news.”
                                                                              –Samantha P., blogger for The Buzz

Reviving Grammar: A Summary of the Eight Parts of Speech

By Robine Jean-Pierre

Many of my peers would agree that we rarely studied grammar throughout most of our years of primary education. Grammar was a ghost that introduced itself somewhere between kindergarten and third grade, only to never be seen again–and yet our teachers would expect us to remember all that it entailed through high school, and maybe even into college.

My eighth grade English teacher, Mr. Snyder, took it upon himself to teach us all that we had missed out on, knowing that our previous teachers had done us a disservice. Before we got into building our vocabulary and writing analytical essays, we started with the basic building blocks: parts of speech. To help visual, synesthetic learners like me, he associated colors and shapes with each one. I will walk you through what I remember from his class.

Nouns

I always knew a noun to be a person, place or thing, but it wasn’t until this class that a fourth option was added to this iconic phrase: a person, place, thing or idea (also known as an abstract thought). Our teacher circled nouns in red marker. In a sentence like “Joe tried to hide his disappointment as he waited on a bench in the park,” Joe is a person, the park is a place, the bench is a thing and disappointment is an idea; these are all examples of nouns. When it’s not so obvious, you can generally identify something as a noun if you can count it, if you can put “a/an” or “the” in front of it (these are called articles), or if it ends in something like -tion, -ness, or -ity, for example, action, sadness, and unity.

Pronouns

These take the place of nouns. Imagine how clunky and awkward it would be if every time you talked about someone, you had to use that person’s name: “Angel said Angel is on Angel’s way, so wait up for Angel.” This next sentence is a lot more concise: “Angel said he is on his way, so wait up for him.” He, his, and him are all pronouns which are replacing, and referring to, Angel. We have a good number of pronouns in English: I, me, my, mine, myself; you, your, yours, yourself; he, him, his, himself; she, her, hers, herself; it, itself; one, oneself; we, us, our, ourselves; they, them, their, theirs, themselves; this, that, these, those. This may sound like a lot to remember, but we use them all the time without even realizing it.

Verbs

Next are verbs, which Mr. Snyder underlined in green. Verbs are usually referred to as action words, such as “eat,” “sleep,” and “breathe.” Since something or someone (the subject) has to perform the action, verbs tend to follow right after nouns. If you have ever taken a foreign language class, you have had to learn all about verb conjugations; depending on the subject, some changes would be made to the verb. In English, the change is simple for regular verbs: just add -s at the end if the subject uses the pronoun he, she, it or one (i.e. second person singular). For example: I jump, you jump, he jumps, etc. Our most irregular but most common verb, “to be,” does not follow this pattern at all: I am, you are, he/she/it/one is, we are, they are. (This holds true in many Latin-based languages like French and Spanish.)

Adjectives

These words, which he boxed in purple, describe nouns, giving you more information about them. If your friend is telling you about a new crush, the conversation will be oozing with adjectives: she’s so smart, funny, talented; he’s handsome, dreamy, confident. Adjectives include colors, numbers, size, quality, and other attributes. You might find these anywhere in a sentence but they can also come directly before the noun they belong to: the cool breeze or the delicious pizza.  

Adverbs

Our teacher made an orange triangle around these. Whereas adjectives describe or modify nouns, adverbs modify verbs. They tend to answer the question  “how?” and they often end in -ly. In the sentence “She entered timidly, quickly taking a seat by the door,” timidly and quickly are the adverbs, and they are describing the way she entered and the way she took a seat. Other adverbs not ending in -ly include often, just, much, and so. We use these all the time, if you haven’t noticed.

I don’t remember the color coding for the next three, and they are also not as frequently talked about, but they are good to know:

Prepositions

These include some of the smallest, most frequently used words in our language: to, at, in, on, by, for, out, from, etc. Longer ones include under, between, through, and alongside. Their name, made up of “pre-” and “position,” give a hint as to how they are used: they tend to indicate direction or placement, and can easily answer the question “where?” when grouped with a noun: “I’m at the park on West 4th street by the pizzeria.” 

Conjunctions

These connect words or parts of sentences to each other. They include and, or, but, because, whereas. Conjunctions establish a relationship between two or more elements. Or tells you that one out of several options is to be selected, not all of them: “Either I will be babysitting that night or doing my homework.”Another example: “You can only choose one color: red, green, or blue.” And may indicate that several things have something in common: “Nick, Joe and Kevin have black hair.” But tends to highlight a contrast: “It’s raining outside but I don’t have my umbrella.” Because has the word cause in it, and indeed links two clauses to create a cause-and-effect relationship. “I didn’t knock because I thought you were sleeping.”

Interjections

These words express emotion and for this reason tend to be exclaimed, for example: “Wow!” “Whoa!” “Gee whiz!” “Ouch!” It is interesting to note how these change from generation to generation within the same language (no one really says “gee whiz” anymore, unless it’s with a touch of sarcasm), and also vary from culture to culture.

I hope you found this helpful in learning (or relearning) the eight parts of speech, and that it wasn’t too difficult to follow. We shouldn’t take English for granted just because it’s our native language. The better we understand it, the better we can communicate.

Five Expressions in Haitian Creole That You Could Pull Off in English

by Robine Jean-Pierre

A linguist at heart, I cringe whenever I come across poorly translated phrases. While I am not fully fluent in all of them, I am familiar with Haitian Creole, French and Spanish, so I often find instances in which the fluidity, wit or meaning of a phrase gets lost when going from one language to another. It is also disappointing to hear a bi- or polylingual person trying to grasp for a term in their native tongue, saying, “It’s like… you know… well, I don’t know how you’d say it in English.” The feeling of exclusion that this provokes leaves me unsatisfied, and I believe that the language barrier can always be crossed, even when it comes to complex things like metaphors and idioms. The key is to translate for the meaning or essence of a word or phrase, even if at the expense of the actual words being used.

Haitian Creole is full of colorful, comical idioms, and I have often entertained myself by undertaking the task of finding their English equivalents. As I said, this is only effective if you go by meaning and not translation verbatim. I will give five examples (though I cannot guarantee I’ve spelled them all correctly).

1. Lè Ti Poul Fè Dan

The expression, “lè ti poul fè dan” in Creole literally means “when chicks teethe.” It is an informal way of responding “Never” to a question, since we know that chicks have beaks and will never grow teeth. If you said this in English, word for word, you would probably get a strange look from the person who asked the question, but never fear, we have the similar English expression, “When pigs fly.”

2. Mete Dlo Nan Diven Ou

“Mete dlo nan diven ou” is an expression that literally means “put [some] water in your wine.” This is a figurative way of telling someone to calm down; parents would say this to children that are acting up. It makes sense when you think of wine as something fiery and provocative, and that watering it down will diminish its strength. This is reminiscent of Bart Simpson’s “Cool your jets, man” (The Simpsons) or the simpler “Take it easy.”

3. Achte Figi Moun

“Achte figi moun” literally means “to buy someone’s face.” Think you can figure it out? You would have slim chances of hearing this in English word for word. This expression touches on the ideas of bribery and flattery, and would most closely link up with “kiss up to someone,” “suck up to” or “brown-nose.” I have mostly heard it used with a touch of infamous Haitian pride: “M’pa achte figi moun” (“I don’t kiss up to people”).

4. Ret Na Wòl Ou

“Ret na wòl ou” is actually not too far from English. It literally means “stay in your role” but links up with our “stay in your lane.” In other words, respect yourself and don’t overstep your boundaries.

5. Li Pa Gen Nen Nan Figi Li

“Li pa gen nen nan figi li” is not something you would want to hear someone say about you behind your back. The literal translation is “He/she doesn’t have a nose on his/her face.” It means that someone has no sense of dignity, pride or shame, like the archetypal nerd who keeps trying to join the cool kids’ clique even after numerous bold-faced rejections. (Maybe it comes from the idea that if this person did have a nose, he would immediately sense the obvious, kind of like when we say “You wouldn’t know __ if it hit you right between the eyes!”) After giving it a lot of thought, the only similar expressions that come to mind are “he’s a sucker” and “he hasn’t got a clue.”

The cleverness or “punch” of a phrase does not have to be sacrificed when you translate it from one language to another. Neither does the beauty of song lyrics or poetry. We may all speak different languages and belong to various cultures, but emotions and ideas are not limited to specific people groups. They are the universal building blocks of the human experience, and a bridge can always be made where there is understanding and effort.

Any funny expressions come to mind, either in English or another language? Please feel free to share in a comment below.

The Language of Love

By Robine Jean-Pierre

There are hundreds, if not thousands of languages spoken, written and articulated in the world today. Not all of us will be able to say we learned Swahili, Chinese or Urdu in our lifetime, but there is one language that we can all speak, one language alone that can unite us: the language of love. And no, I don’t mean French or Spanish.

a man in suit and bow-tie holding a martini glass and winking

© David Niven 2017

“No man is an island” (the title of a poem by John Donne). Unless you have spent all of your life in solitary confinement, you have connections with people around you. What we often overlook, even though it may seem obvious, is that these deep rooted relationships require maintenance. Your loved ones have standards that you need to meet, and vice versa, in order to keep the relationship afloat. That might mean phone calls, keeping the house clean, gifts, visits, etc. The thing is that we all set those standards in different ways, and that’s where the specific love languages come in.

In his book The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman explains that there are five main ways we express and receive love. They are: acts of service, physical touch, words of affirmation, receiving gifts, and quality time. He goes on to point out that each of us has a primary love language; we feel the most loved through it and express it toward others the most. I will explain in my own words and give some examples below.

one man holding a door open for another man

MCT via Getty Images

Acts of Service

If this is your primary love language, you feel most loved when someone helps you. You are always willing to lend a helping hand to others as well. It warms your heart when someone holds a door open for you or offers to do the dishes when it was your turn. Conversely, it really “grinds your gears” when someone does not offer you a hand, whether by outright refusing, or by failing to acknowledge your need. 

For these people, actions speak way louder than words. If you love them, you will be willing to show it, and to do whatever they are asking of you with a sincere heart. This might be doing the dirty work, like taking out the trash without being asked. This is definitely my mom’s love language, and not just because she is a mom. I have seen her offer herself wholeheartedly, not just for her children, but for people who, frankly, do not even deserve it.

two young male friends, one with his arm around the other's shoulder

photo by Vishvanavanjana

Physical Touch

You love to give and receive hugs, pats on the back, an arm around the shoulder and firm handshakes. You find massages incredibly enjoyable, and holding you while you cry is the most compassionate way someone can console you.

People might be suspicious of you because they are not as comfortable with touching, or they suspect that you are just trying to “make a move” on them–but that’s not true. Physical touch is not limited to affection exchanged between lovers. This is my fiancé Angel’s primary love language, and I realized early on that his touchiness was not simply flirtiness when I observed his interactions with family and friends. He was all hugs, all the time, and still is that way.

Words of Affirmation

a text message conversation in which one person expresses his/her feelings for the other

from Pinterest

You value words of praise and encouragement. One compliment has your mood lifted for the entire day. Love letters are the quickest way to your heart. On the other end, hurtful words inflict a wound like nothing else can.

If you know individuals like this, it is crucial that you constantly boost them up with the power of your words. Don’t dismiss them as being vain or conceited when they fish for compliments. Tell them “I love you” often, because even if you hit all of the other four love languages, they might not feel certain until you say it. Don’t just think good toward them–be very vocal about your appreciation and generous with compliments. Be careful, even when joking, about what you say to them.

 

Receiving Gifts

You feel most loved when someone gives you a gift. Whether something small like a flower or expensive like new sneakers, just the fact that someone thought of you means the world to you. Someone’s presence is also a present to you; you would be greatly offended if your significant other got you nothing on Valentine’s Day, but also if your best friend did not make it to your birthday party. 

a man embracing a woman to whom he has given a gift

Vogue (http://www.pulse.ng)

I feel as if this can be mistaken for being materialistic, but there is a difference. From what I have observed, this is my younger sister’s primary love language, and it took a while for me to realize that she wasn’t just being greedy whenever she asked me to bring her something on my way back home. Her attention to detail when choosing and packaging gifts for others also says it all. Because of this, when I have the money and time, I am less reluctant to pick up a Snickers bar or buy her something she’s been raving about every now and then.

Quality Time

You are an unofficial event planner, always coming up with a new idea for a date with your friends, family or significant other. You value long conversations, especially with an engaged listener. If you had one complaint in a relationship, it would be, “We never spend enough time together!” You give your phone a side-eye when someone does not reply back to your messages quickly enough or answer your calls.

a father reading a picture book on the couch with his daughter

Photo courtesy of United Way of West Alabama

This is definitely my primary love language. Nothing hurts me more than a missed opportunity to see someone I love, especially Angel. It drives me crazy when he’s not texting me, even if he has a very legitimate excuse, like work. I can spend a whole day with him and still feel disappointed when we have to part ways. This was true even with my best friend Marsha when we were younger; I often cried whenever I had to leave her apartment, and we lived in the same building.

People like me need as much time as you can afford to give. Make sure that in the midst of all your responsibilities, you don’t make a “quality-timer” feel as if he/she is at the bottom of your list; we are more likely to get jealous of things (e.g. work, sports, video games) than people. Set aside time for dates, phone calls, etc., and as a tip, it’s not enough to just be in the same room together–make sure that the activity requires you to give each other undivided attention.

Get Out There and Love Someone

Chapman explains that each of us has a love tank that needs to be filled. Often times, people act out, complain, or are unhappy because their tank is not filled. Marriages often crumble because two people are working hard to please each other in the way they know how, not in the way their spouse wants. The main way to fill the tank is to show love in that person’s primary love language.

If you are wondering what your primary love language is, think about which one you show others the most, and what bothers you the most (and see the quiz online). I highly recommend you get a copy of the book for yourself and take the quiz. Just as a final word of advice, the goal here is not to win people over, but to love them for the sake of love. If something is to be done, it might as well be done right. Do you want a boring relationship or an exciting one? Do you want nagging parents or happy parents? Love people wholeheartedly, expecting nothing in return, and this world would be radically redefined.the cover of "The 5 Love Languages" book by Gary Chapman

An Nou Palé (Let’s Talk)

by Robine Jean-Pierre

the words "Haitian, I am that. Creole, I speak that, Red and Blue, I bleed that" written in front of a Haitian flag

Have you ever heard someone refer to Haitian Creole as “broken French” or “French slang”? This can be offensive to speakers of the language, mainly because it is inaccurate.

Haitian Creole (or kréyol ayisyen) is the main language spoken in Haiti. When we Haitians refer to the language we just call it kréyol, but recognized internationally, adding “Haitian” distinguishes it from the many other types of creoles there are worldwide. Several other Caribbean and/or West Indian nations have creoles, and even Australia does as well.

So what is a creole? A creole starts off as a pidgin, a rudimentary “language” of sorts that combines elements from the languages of two different countries.  It is a makeshift language used mainly for business; that is why many pidgins and creoles have been a direct offspring of imperialism. The vocabulary often comes from the language of the dominant nation while the grammar comes from the language of the subordinate nation (see Maria Khodorkovsky’s article, “Pidgins and Creoles: The Formation of Nonstandard Language”). A pidgin becomes a creole when it is passed down to the next generation of speakers as their primary language.

Haitian Creole is a mix of French, West African dialects spoken by the slaves whom were brought over to Haiti (formerly Hispaniola), and even some minimal indigenous languages such as Taino. (include chart) From this point on, when I refer to Creole I mean Haitian Creole. Growing up hearing it in my home, I find it to be an amusing and colorful language. Sometimes, I feel as if Creole words and phrases capture an idea or emotion better than English does.

To anyone who would wish to learn it, one of the advantages is that one word can be used to mean several things, so you would not have to learn too much vocabulary to express several ideas. For example, whereas in English we have five first person singular pronouns (I, me, my, mine, myself), in Creole these are all expressed with the same word: mwen (aside from myself, which would be tet mwen). In a similar manner, verbs do not have to be conjugated in Creole the way they often are in other languages. In English, the verb “to eat” changes depending on who is the subject (either adding or dropping an ‘s’) but in Creole it is always the same: mwen manje, ou manje, li manje, etc.

On the flip side, I would say that the hardest part is the pronunciation. There are many sounds in Creole that are akin to French and West African dialects, so if you speak any of these languages you would have an advantage. Certain consonant sounds are brought together in ways you would not hear so much in English. For example, consider the word dlo (water) which derives from the French de l’eau (some water, or of water). It might be hard for an American English speaker to say this because no English words, from what I know, ever start with that dl- combination. You might find it in the middle of a word, like medley. But even then, most of us would say the word like “med-lee,” not “meh-dlee.” A lot of beginners (including myself when I was younger) pronounce dlo like the English “glow” for this reason; gl- is more natural to the tongue.

The ‘r’ in Creole is also tricky. For untrained ears it is sometimes just barely audible, like in the word drapo (from drapeau meaning flag). This ‘r’ is pronounced more in the back of your throat, unlike a “Spanish r,” for instance, which is more toward the front of your mouth, using the tip of your tongue. In other Creole words, the ‘r’ more closely resembles an English ‘w,’ especially at the beginning of the word. The word roch (rock, stone) would sound most like “wush” (rhyming with brush).

I hope this article helped you to learn more about Haitian Creole, and made it clear to you that it is indeed a formal language. I encourage you to do your own research, indulge in Haitian culture (especially the food) and learn a few words. You never know when it might come in handy.  Mesi anpil! (Thank you very much!)

Sites to consider:

Watch Your Mouth

by Robine Jean-Pierre a "no cursing" sign on a post outdoors

We know what “curse words,” “cuss words,” or “swear words” are when we hear them. While some people reserve them for when they are angry, others just slip them into casual conversation, often without being completely aware of it. In spite of this, I would argue that most of us, if not all, know deep down that using these words is wrong. Or is it?

Some would argue that curse words are “just words.” Following the old saying “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” it is reasonable to propose that words in themselves do not have much power; they are simply abstract thoughts attached to sounds our throats and mouths make, or a collection of characters scrawled or typed on a page.

Others would probably say, “Well yeah, once upon a time those words meant something, but now the definitions have changed, so it doesn’t matter.”  Words change meaning and connotation all the time, sometimes from bad to good or vice versa. The word “fa**ot,” for instance, at one point meant a bundle of sticks, but today it is most often used as an insult hurled at homosexual individuals.

I am of the strong opinion that if a word is or has been recognized as a curse word, we should leave it that way. There is no use trying to reclaim, repurpose, or redefine a word when the better option would be to refuse it altogether. Take the “n-word,” for instance. If it started off as a derogatory, dehumanizing word to describe Black slaves (and eventually their non-slave descendants), I do not agree with Black men calling each other that, putting it in the same category as “friend,” “brother” or “homie”; it just seems foolish and backwards. To make things more complicated, the reclaimed word is not even limited to Black culture anymore; I have seen a Latino boy call his younger brother that, and Asian friends call each other that, just to point out a few examples. Why has a word with such a haunting past now pervaded popular culture?

The bottom line is that I do not believe it’s right to curse, yet I admit that lately, even I do. This is due, in part, to spending a lot of time around fellow college students, many of whom do not share the same convictions or inhibitions as me. While I do not use these words in conversation, I do mutter them under my breath, or scream them in my head when provoked by a disgruntling situation. Sometimes I am not even that upset; it could be something small like not knowing where I put my glasses, or my phone acting up, and I ask myself, “Where are my [bleeping] glasses?” or say, “This stupid piece of [bleep].” The worst part is–I can’t lie–I do get a temporary sense of relief and empowerment when I use these words; it’s as if I can feel the steam being released from my ears.

However, even if that’s the case, then I have to ask myself, why use a negative outlet for my anger when I could use a positive one, one that would add to my overall self-image and wellbeing, rather than take away from it?

I am always reminded of an episode of SpongeBob Squarepants in which Patrick referred to the curse words that SpongeBob recently learned as “sentence enhancers.” On the contrary, I feel that curse words cheapen conversation and weaken the integrity of the sentence that was just spoken. Even some of my professors curse, and while they probably do this to appear relatable, comfortable, or demonstrate that “we are all adults here,” instead it just shows a lack of respect on the part of the speaker for whoever hears them. I am grateful for my engineering drawing professor who made it a policy for us not to curse in class; this was one of the ways he advocated for a professional environment in which we all treated each other with respect.

Perhaps, as in many cases, the problem is not the words we use per se. The problem is that we often give ourselves up to self-deprecating behavior. We look for the easy, sleazy, instantly gratifying ways to express ourselves instead of the wholesome, worthwhile, thoughtful ways. Just imagine an employee who does not get the promotion she was hoping for. Instead of releasing the frustration through something she loves, like bike riding or painting, she chooses to drown out her problems by getting drunk that night, and lashes out at her husband. This is a disheartening but very common story.

And unfortunately, many of us have not been taught alternatives. Often times, our bad habits are learned behaviors, and our family and friends make the best teachers. To give one example, how many times does an abusive parent breed a child who grows up to become an abusive spouse? For both the parent and child, violence is the only way they know to dispose of anger and rejection, rather than through hobbies, counseling, sports, etc.

To make matters worse, we then paint the cheaper, detrimental mode of expression as better because we are afraid to want better for ourselves. To bring it back to the subject of cursing, if we do not curse or are not O.K. with having a friend call us the “b-word,” we fear being labeled as a “goody-two shoes” or a self-righteous prude. It’s easy to curse because “everyone else is doing it” or “it’s just words” but the reality is, when we do, we prove that we have a limited vocabulary and an even more limited view of ourselves and others.

We can keep ourselves in check by asking questions like: “How would I feel if I heard my (future) children use those words? How would my grandmother react to it? Would I expect my prospective boss to hire me if I used those words during the interview?” Sure, these are generalized questions; some people work in an environment that is not as strict, and some people have parents and/or children who curse along with them–but I hope you get the point.

Substituting curse words with sound-alike euphemisms is not a long-term solution, but it is a decent place to start. Wean yourself off of F-bombs with “fudge” or “freak,” but as I said earlier, the words in themselves are not the heart of the problem; they are the just the symptom.  If you feel like it is acceptable to hurl demeaning insults at someone because he took a parking space (or seat on the train) before you did, then the problem is that you do not value and respect people as much as you should.

Furthermore, do you realize that you can damage someone’s psyche without ever letting a curse word escape your lips? Whether you vocalize those emotions or keep them inside, whether you express them with curse words or with scholarly, ostentatious words, your hatred toward someone is just as dangerous and real, and it needs to be handled in a healthy way.

So, I encourage you to find healthy ways to express your emotions, whether joy, lovesickness, pain, or anger. Find what you are passionate about and pursue it. Think before you speak and act. As with any negative habit, it may take Proverbs 18:21 written in artistic forma lot of time and determination to break it, but if you watch your mouth, I guarantee that the results will be sweet.

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue…” (Proverbs 18:21a, The Holy Bible)