Forbidden words: What would Mark Twain say?

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Caution: Any euphemisms in this post are included only for the purpose of discouraging their use elsewhere. If you are easily offended by real words used by real people, please avert your eyes. Go read this instead.

You can’t say I didn’t warn you.

Say what you mean

WTF. This was useful in writing at one point as a short, hackneyed substitute for an equally overused phrase. Often favored for its brevity and effectiveness in tight spaces, such as Twitter, it is overdue for retirement.

It went from useful to ridiculous a few months ago, when Keith Olbermann killed it by awkwardly verbalizing it during an MSNBC broadcast, saying, “Double-u tee eff.” He wasn’t fooling anyone, of course, but technically avoided using what too many others coyly refer to as “the f word.”

Cowardly behavior, of which I would not normally accuse Olbermann. Worse yet, it didn’t work.

Similarly, Mark Twain might have laughed – or, more likely, shook his head – over extensive use of the term “the n word” as commentators discussed the recent misguided perversion of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Failing to say “nigger” even as they tried to make the case for leaving the word in the classic text diminished their own argument. It is in the book as published, and it is part of history.

It is not a word to fear.

It is a vile word. I recall saying it only once in my life. I discourage others from using it, as I do with any other racial slur. Still, it is only a word. When discussing it and its use in literature, we shouldn’t be afraid to use it.

F word. N word. It is time to do away with these childish absurdities.

Say what you mean, or say nothing at all.

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Another F word and the comfort zone: a place to avoid

Comfort level a concern
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Fear is one of the most powerful of the “F” words and one of the most debilitating of emotions.

It keeps people from stretching their boundaries, exploring new possibilities and accomplishing things they are otherwise fully capable of accomplishing. It keeps a person in his or her comfort zone, which is a surprisingly dangerous place to be.

I’ve been fascinated by the concept of the comfort zone since working with leadership expert and motivator Jim McLaughlin on his book, The Six Things: Leading People to Outstanding Achievement. I learned that if you stay in your comfort zone, the zone actually begins to shrink around you. As it shrinks, so does your universe of possibilities.

Several people I’ve met recently expressed a fear of using social media. That can have serious, expensive consequences for some people: job hunters, for example, and writers who aspire to selling their written work. Knowledge of some modern tools is a must if you’re going to set yourself apart from the competition.

My advice: Put the fear aside and learn something new.

If you’re going to be afraid of something, be afraid of stagnation and self-imposed limits.

If you’re going to fear something, fear your comfort zone.

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Freedom is just another word…

In a Northern Colorado Writers meeting the other day, Director Kerrie Flanagan asked those in attendance to share what would be their special “word for the year.”

Going ’round the table, the responses chosen with varying degrees of seriousness included: Dream. Endurance. Triage. Revenge. Productivity. Finish. Partnership.

My choice was Success, pulled from thin air in a fit of optimism. It was my first meeting, at the invitation of Words by Bob blogger and fellow Iowa native Bob McDonnell.

Success still seems like a good word to keep in mind, with the idea that one experiences what one envisions. Better to pick oneself up and dust one’s self off and get back on the bicycle and all that.

However … as there is nothing to stop us from having more than one word in mind as a theme for the year, I choose another:


Henceforth, when someone who is shy about using powerful language says “the F word,” that is where my mind will go. More on that idea and on saying what you mean, coming soon…

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If you have your own word or theme for the year, please share with a comment and let us know why you’ve picked it.