"Hey, Mom. I know two really bad words," Alison tells me the other day while we were sitting on the couch in the front room.
"Really?" I say. "What are they?"
"Well the first one is A-S-S, and I know what it means."
"Oh yeah? What does it mean?"
"It means 'mutton head?"
"Huh. Really? What's a mutton head?"
"You know. Someone really dumb."
"OK. That's right. It also means a donkey, you know. Sometimes it's not really a bad word at all," I said.
"Wanna know the other word?"
"Ferk," she said, eyes wide, staring straight at me, gasping just a little at her own bravado to utter such a terrible word.
My first thought was, "How does Alison know about the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, aka the FERC?" (Once a utility nerd, always a utility nerd, and Jeff is still in the biz, you know.)
Then I thought again. "Oh, Fu@K. She doesn't know how to pronounce it!"
"Uh, where did you hear that word, honey?"
"They're both in the dictionary, Mom," she said. "But I don't know what 'ferk' means. What does it mean?"
Now, I have a strict policy of telling Ali the truth when she asks a question. Amy Tokash still hasn't quite forgiven me for telling her and then her telling Jenna how babies really escape the womb.
For about two seconds, I debated telling her the correct pronunciation and the definition of the word I thought she meant. I thought about context and the many different ways that particular word can be used to convey a point.
After a third second, I tried for, "Well that's a really bad word. You don't ever need to use it."
"But what's it mean?" she asked. "I really want to know."
I think I passed out. I don't remember what I told her, but it wasn't the total truth.
Hell, for all I know she was talking about federal energy policy, climate change and the need for safe nuclear power. That's what I'm telling myself anyway....