Words = Power

Thanks for everyone’s comments about yesterday’s question. I found myself thinking last night that cursing feels like a challenge to authority to some people. Which is why, of course, lots of teens do it. Adults, too. Hmmm… Maybe I should write a master’s thesis on the control of language in high school. It’s not just cursing when you think about it. Unpopular truths can get you in more trouble than four-letter words.

Chittenango Middle School today. My voice is getting hoarse.

9 Replies to “Words = Power”

  1. Chris Crutcher and “language”

    I read your question and its responses with interest because I work for Chris as his assistant and have been knee deep in the Michigan controversies with him. I didn’t have a chance to post yesterday, but briefly today, while I understand the “gasp” factor associated with finding the “f” word nestled in a young adult novel, I don’t believe Chris could tell his stories with authenticity without them. How can he write about the gaping wounds left by racism without looking at the world that cuts deepest? How can he write about adolescent young men, often facing significant emotional challenges, without using what he calls, “the language of their native tongue?” My daughter struggled with some weighty issues in her teens, and she loved Crutcher and Cormier because they “told the truth,” and didn’t “cop out” with “friggin” or “shout,” in books that looked to her familiar. So I think kids aching to see their lives in literature, see an honesty in the use of that language. And kids who don’t, are no strangers to the “f” word, as any of use who spend time in high school hallways can witness.

    That said, THE SLEDDING HILL, Chris’s new novel has no swear words in it. None. Zip. Nada. He wasn’t “afraid.” If you know Chris, you know he’s seldom hesitant. He wanted to prove it wasn’t the WORDS that offended people, but the free nature of his characters. And trust me, plenty of people will want to challenge this book too, so I think he proved his point. Great book.

    Anyway, I’ve been long winded, and I apologize, but it’s a topic that has weight and import to me, especially right now. So I thought I’d post. One last thing, though. As someone who helps process Chris’s “fan mail” for lack of a better term, I have to tell you, my daughter isn’t the only one who feels comforted by that “rough” language. Literally thousands of kids (and adults) have written to tell him they thought he had seen into their lives, and they felt they now had a champion, through his fiction. If one kid feels a little less isolated in their pain, it’s worth all these challenges. That’s what free speech is all about. The right to express yourself — even if it’s through the novels of a favorite writer. Even if it’s through salty speech.

    Hushing.

    Kelly Milner Halls
    KellyMilnerH@aol.com

  2. Chris Crutcher and “language”

    I read your question and its responses with interest because I work for Chris as his assistant and have been knee deep in the Michigan controversies with him. I didn’t have a chance to post yesterday, but briefly today, while I understand the “gasp” factor associated with finding the “f” word nestled in a young adult novel, I don’t believe Chris could tell his stories with authenticity without them. How can he write about the gaping wounds left by racism without looking at the world that cuts deepest? How can he write about adolescent young men, often facing significant emotional challenges, without using what he calls, “the language of their native tongue?” My daughter struggled with some weighty issues in her teens, and she loved Crutcher and Cormier because they “told the truth,” and didn’t “cop out” with “friggin” or “shout,” in books that looked to her familiar. So I think kids aching to see their lives in literature, see an honesty in the use of that language. And kids who don’t, are no strangers to the “f” word, as any of use who spend time in high school hallways can witness.

    That said, THE SLEDDING HILL, Chris’s new novel has no swear words in it. None. Zip. Nada. He wasn’t “afraid.” If you know Chris, you know he’s seldom hesitant. He wanted to prove it wasn’t the WORDS that offended people, but the free nature of his characters. And trust me, plenty of people will want to challenge this book too, so I think he proved his point. Great book.

    Anyway, I’ve been long winded, and I apologize, but it’s a topic that has weight and import to me, especially right now. So I thought I’d post. One last thing, though. As someone who helps process Chris’s “fan mail” for lack of a better term, I have to tell you, my daughter isn’t the only one who feels comforted by that “rough” language. Literally thousands of kids (and adults) have written to tell him they thought he had seen into their lives, and they felt they now had a champion, through his fiction. If one kid feels a little less isolated in their pain, it’s worth all these challenges. That’s what free speech is all about. The right to express yourself — even if it’s through the novels of a favorite writer. Even if it’s through salty speech.

    Hushing.

    Kelly Milner Halls
    KellyMilnerH@aol.com

    1. Re: Chris Crutcher and “language”

      Thank you for writing, Kelly. My hope, when I posted my questions, was to get some input from our teen readers that we could send to Chris to bolster his spirits. Unfortunately, most of the folks who weighed in were authors. Maybe all the teens are off reading books.

      I agree with Chris’ (and your) position 100%. But I disagree on your prediction for his new book. I am very interested to see what kind of flack you guys get for THE SLEDDING HILL. I’ll wager a friendly cup of tea that if there are no swear words in it, you’ll see minimal flack. This is based on my own experience.

      The people who seem most likely to try to ban and burn books, and thus to turn the spotlight on themselves and their brittle self-righteousness, seem best able to mount campaigns when they have something small and concrete to scream about – like a curse word. If it is a theme, or an action, or a characterization involved, their efforts fizzle, because that requires discussion and actually reading the book, instead of thumbing through it looking for offending words.

      What is it exactly about swear words that some people find so offensive? Actually, it is the community’s agreement that the word is a bad thing. “Bloody” in England is quite offensive. Here it means someone in search of a First Aid kid. “Crap” in American English is rather mild. In England, I am told it is more offensive.

      Teens use swear words to assert themselves, to express opinions strongly and to irritate grown-ups. Grown-ups use these words, too. Just watch anyone drop a hammer on his/her bare foot.

      Swear words are offensive to some because they feel like a direct challenge to authority. Directly challenging authority is part of the human condition. It’s called adolescence. Honestly reflecting the world of teens is going to require some swearing, cursing, muttering and talking back. End of story.

      Please give Chris my very best. I know he feels supported by all his fans and fellow writers, but these situations are draining.

      1. Re: Chris Crutcher and “language” — Kelly again

        Boil that water, Laurie, cause that’s a bet I’ll take. Even without language, Chris challenges the motivation of the extreme Christian right (and no, that doesn’t mean the average Christian) — authority figures who MISUSE their authority. And his protagonist is in touch with his best friend — who is dead. Trust me, the censors will be just as vocal. They’ll just have to be more creative in the barbs they use.

        Avi once told me books are challenged because they are the last bastion of true privacy for kids — the one place, the one relationship in which they feelings and thoughts really can’t be forcibly determined. When a kid sits down with a book, he said, it’s just that kid and that author, that STORY. And that connection scares some people. I think in many ways, he’s right. And I’m glad for it. Because a lot of kids don’t think anyone understands them. But in those books, the meet people who could. And the hope that inspires can be immeasurable.

        So start collecting teabags, and I’ll do the same. Cause somebody’s gonna lose that friendly bet, and I’m thinking it’s not gonna be me. But as long as you and Chris and other brilliant writers who care about kids keep writing true fiction, all of us will be winners too.

        Congrats on PROM. Terry Trueman was right. It’s seamless, it’s well crafted and it’s FUN!

        Kelly Milner Halls

  3. Chris Crutcher and “language”

    I read your question and its responses with interest because I work for Chris as his assistant and have been knee deep in the Michigan controversies with him. I didn’t have a chance to post yesterday, but briefly today, while I understand the “gasp” factor associated with finding the “f” word nestled in a young adult novel, I don’t believe Chris could tell his stories with authenticity without them. How can he write about the gaping wounds left by racism without looking at the world that cuts deepest? How can he write about adolescent young men, often facing significant emotional challenges, without using what he calls, “the language of their native tongue?” My daughter struggled with some weighty issues in her teens, and she loved Crutcher and Cormier because they “told the truth,” and didn’t “cop out” with “friggin” or “shout,” in books that looked to her familiar. So I think kids aching to see their lives in literature, see an honesty in the use of that language. And kids who don’t, are no strangers to the “f” word, as any of use who spend time in high school hallways can witness.

    That said, THE SLEDDING HILL, Chris’s new novel has no swear words in it. None. Zip. Nada. He wasn’t “afraid.” If you know Chris, you know he’s seldom hesitant. He wanted to prove it wasn’t the WORDS that offended people, but the free nature of his characters. And trust me, plenty of people will want to challenge this book too, so I think he proved his point. Great book.

    Anyway, I’ve been long winded, and I apologize, but it’s a topic that has weight and import to me, especially right now. So I thought I’d post. One last thing, though. As someone who helps process Chris’s “fan mail” for lack of a better term, I have to tell you, my daughter isn’t the only one who feels comforted by that “rough” language. Literally thousands of kids (and adults) have written to tell him they thought he had seen into their lives, and they felt they now had a champion, through his fiction. If one kid feels a little less isolated in their pain, it’s worth all these challenges. That’s what free speech is all about. The right to express yourself — even if it’s through the novels of a favorite writer. Even if it’s through salty speech.

    Hushing.

    Kelly Milner Halls
    KellyMilnerH@aol.com

  4. Re: Chris Crutcher and “language”

    Thank you for writing, Kelly. My hope, when I posted my questions, was to get some input from our teen readers that we could send to Chris to bolster his spirits. Unfortunately, most of the folks who weighed in were authors. Maybe all the teens are off reading books.

    I agree with Chris’ (and your) position 100%. But I disagree on your prediction for his new book. I am very interested to see what kind of flack you guys get for THE SLEDDING HILL. I’ll wager a friendly cup of tea that if there are no swear words in it, you’ll see minimal flack. This is based on my own experience.

    The people who seem most likely to try to ban and burn books, and thus to turn the spotlight on themselves and their brittle self-righteousness, seem best able to mount campaigns when they have something small and concrete to scream about – like a curse word. If it is a theme, or an action, or a characterization involved, their efforts fizzle, because that requires discussion and actually reading the book, instead of thumbing through it looking for offending words.

    What is it exactly about swear words that some people find so offensive? Actually, it is the community’s agreement that the word is a bad thing. “Bloody” in England is quite offensive. Here it means someone in search of a First Aid kid. “Crap” in American English is rather mild. In England, I am told it is more offensive.

    Teens use swear words to assert themselves, to express opinions strongly and to irritate grown-ups. Grown-ups use these words, too. Just watch anyone drop a hammer on his/her bare foot.

    Swear words are offensive to some because they feel like a direct challenge to authority. Directly challenging authority is part of the human condition. It’s called adolescence. Honestly reflecting the world of teens is going to require some swearing, cursing, muttering and talking back. End of story.

    Please give Chris my very best. I know he feels supported by all his fans and fellow writers, but these situations are draining.

  5. Re: Chris Crutcher and “language”

    Thank you for writing, Kelly. My hope, when I posted my questions, was to get some input from our teen readers that we could send to Chris to bolster his spirits. Unfortunately, most of the folks who weighed in were authors. Maybe all the teens are off reading books.

    I agree with Chris’ (and your) position 100%. But I disagree on your prediction for his new book. I am very interested to see what kind of flack you guys get for THE SLEDDING HILL. I’ll wager a friendly cup of tea that if there are no swear words in it, you’ll see minimal flack. This is based on my own experience.

    The people who seem most likely to try to ban and burn books, and thus to turn the spotlight on themselves and their brittle self-righteousness, seem best able to mount campaigns when they have something small and concrete to scream about – like a curse word. If it is a theme, or an action, or a characterization involved, their efforts fizzle, because that requires discussion and actually reading the book, instead of thumbing through it looking for offending words.

    What is it exactly about swear words that some people find so offensive? Actually, it is the community’s agreement that the word is a bad thing. “Bloody” in England is quite offensive. Here it means someone in search of a First Aid kid. “Crap” in American English is rather mild. In England, I am told it is more offensive.

    Teens use swear words to assert themselves, to express opinions strongly and to irritate grown-ups. Grown-ups use these words, too. Just watch anyone drop a hammer on his/her bare foot.

    Swear words are offensive to some because they feel like a direct challenge to authority. Directly challenging authority is part of the human condition. It’s called adolescence. Honestly reflecting the world of teens is going to require some swearing, cursing, muttering and talking back. End of story.

    Please give Chris my very best. I know he feels supported by all his fans and fellow writers, but these situations are draining.

  6. Re: Chris Crutcher and “language” — Kelly again

    Boil that water, Laurie, cause that’s a bet I’ll take. Even without language, Chris challenges the motivation of the extreme Christian right (and no, that doesn’t mean the average Christian) — authority figures who MISUSE their authority. And his protagonist is in touch with his best friend — who is dead. Trust me, the censors will be just as vocal. They’ll just have to be more creative in the barbs they use.

    Avi once told me books are challenged because they are the last bastion of true privacy for kids — the one place, the one relationship in which they feelings and thoughts really can’t be forcibly determined. When a kid sits down with a book, he said, it’s just that kid and that author, that STORY. And that connection scares some people. I think in many ways, he’s right. And I’m glad for it. Because a lot of kids don’t think anyone understands them. But in those books, the meet people who could. And the hope that inspires can be immeasurable.

    So start collecting teabags, and I’ll do the same. Cause somebody’s gonna lose that friendly bet, and I’m thinking it’s not gonna be me. But as long as you and Chris and other brilliant writers who care about kids keep writing true fiction, all of us will be winners too.

    Congrats on PROM. Terry Trueman was right. It’s seamless, it’s well crafted and it’s FUN!

    Kelly Milner Halls

  7. Re: Chris Crutcher and “language” — Kelly again

    Boil that water, Laurie, cause that’s a bet I’ll take. Even without language, Chris challenges the motivation of the extreme Christian right (and no, that doesn’t mean the average Christian) — authority figures who MISUSE their authority. And his protagonist is in touch with his best friend — who is dead. Trust me, the censors will be just as vocal. They’ll just have to be more creative in the barbs they use.

    Avi once told me books are challenged because they are the last bastion of true privacy for kids — the one place, the one relationship in which they feelings and thoughts really can’t be forcibly determined. When a kid sits down with a book, he said, it’s just that kid and that author, that STORY. And that connection scares some people. I think in many ways, he’s right. And I’m glad for it. Because a lot of kids don’t think anyone understands them. But in those books, the meet people who could. And the hope that inspires can be immeasurable.

    So start collecting teabags, and I’ll do the same. Cause somebody’s gonna lose that friendly bet, and I’m thinking it’s not gonna be me. But as long as you and Chris and other brilliant writers who care about kids keep writing true fiction, all of us will be winners too.

    Congrats on PROM. Terry Trueman was right. It’s seamless, it’s well crafted and it’s FUN!

    Kelly Milner Halls

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