It’s been a strange week.

I seem to have scuttled one friendship in a stupid political debate in which I indulged a destructive tendency to answer a verbal jab with a verbal elbow to the nose. Apologies have been issued and unaccepted, and so it goes. Another lesson learned the hard way.

My sour mood over that loss notwithstanding, I was happy to see that my friend Celeste’s son has learned that a precise employment of language can deliver some nice benefits.

As she wrote in a Facebook status update:

Arguing with the boy. “You said I’d get ice cream.” He had a fudge bar earlier, so I said he’d already had ice cream. “That’s only RELATED to ice cream.”

Celeste acknowledged in a subsequent comment that she was losing the argument.

I smiled, because it reminded me of a row I had with my own mother many years ago, when I was in junior high school. We were arguing about something or other that has been lost to time, and I was prevailing in the game of point-counterpoint. Finally, Mom pulled the plug by way of a fiat: It would be done her way, and that was that.

“You’re only doing that because you’re losing the damned argument,” I said.

My invocation of the mildest of curse words, at my tender age, earned me a fresh round of scolding and the promise that more would follow that evening from my stepfather. I trudged off to school dreading what awaited me just a few hours later.

When I returned home, I was sat down for a talk. I couldn’t be permitted to go around cursing at my mother, I was told. There would have to be a punishment, a rather stern one.

(I should point out now that my folks were, and are, extraordinarily good people who rarely had to punish me, sternly or otherwise. That’s because I was a pretty good kid, my budding proclivity for verbal throwdowns notwithstanding.)

Rather than accepting my fate, I took issue with my stepfather’s characterization of my offense. I proceeded to reduce that morning’s angry sentence to its component parts, pointing out that damned was an adjective that modified the noun argument. It was not accurate to say I cursed at my mother, I contended. The better interpretation is that I cursed in her presence.

My folks were duly impressed with my grammatical acuity. My grounding was trimmed to a day rather than the longer stretch initially outlined. And I was exhorted to not curse “at” or “near” my mother again.

Sometimes, a reduced sentence is the best you can hope for.

(By the way, the word cloud above is the product of this post. Clever, eh?)

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