Tuesday, February 16, 2010


"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....

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