“Words That Stung”

Yes, it’s come to this: in desperation I have printed off a list of Interesting Personal Essay Ideas. Sigh! And this was on there – the title, not the wasp, or wapsie as Canadian sister used to say when little, several millennia ago. I know why the current lack of inspiration: things have been happening in my life as usual, but for various reasons nothing I can actually write about here. This always stymies me, since my usual method is simply to ask myself What am I obsessing about/ ruminating over/ pondering/ remembering right this minute? And however unlikely the subject is, I sit down and ‘splurge’ about that.

I usually avoid internet lists of essay titles. They mostly seem to be aimed at schoolchildren and involve school, teenage crushes, dreams and plans for the future, lurve or parents – none of which I have, in any useful sense. Note of gloom creeping in here – buck up, do, you old misery!

Words That Stung – hmmm, we all have some of those, don’t we? And how not to turn a feeble attempt at an entertaining Monday Morning Post into All The Nasty Things People Have Ever Said To Me. Let’s just select a few, then over to you for your examples.

There was the time my mother told me I had to keep my face still when we were out shopping, because some lady had said What a pity your little girl has St Vitus Dance, or words to that effect. My mother explained that St Vitus’ Dance was when your face kept twitching, kind of grotesquely. I wonder who St Vitus was? Somebody who danced, obviously. Will have to look him up.

There was the time Canadian Sister and I entered a children’s writing competition in the local newspaper (Uncle Mac’s Corner). The title was something like Why My Mummy Is The Best In The World. I wrote it really, but sister provided some enthusiastic input. She was probably too young to write at that stage. I was so proud when it appeared in Uncle Mac’s Corner the next day, and expected Mummy to be pleased (chocolate cup cakes for a week, I imagined) but she wasn’t.

Instead she launched into a – to me, at seven or so – inexplicable and hysterical rant, to the effect that I sent that to the newspaper, secretly, for all to see and laugh at, and I could write all that but I could never tell her to her face. It was true that I had never told her to her face. It had never occurred to me because what kid goes up to their Mum and says all that sugary, embarrassing stuff? And anyway writing was my telling, my speaking, my confiding – was then and has remained so.

And then I had to walk to school, with my face all red and puffy, hiccupping, and get teased and stared at all day for the mess I was in. I maybe understood a bit better when I got older, but I never forgave her.

There was the time – no, I can’t tell you that one. Or…that one, either.

And then there was the time a supervisor told me the ‘bosses’ regarded me as some kind of slightly addled old hippy – nice, but vague – or words to that effect. I wasn’t actually nice, and I wasn’t actually vague, and if only I had been a hippy.

There was the time a visiting financial advisor remarked that of course the root of all my problems was a) insufficient income and b) all those cats. The sensible thing, he said, will be to dispose of all, or most of, these stray cats. I wondered whether he had children, and how many of them he would dispose of in times of financial stress, and which of them he would choose.

There was the time the doctor told me my bad back would get better if I lost some of the excess weight when actually I was just bundled up in an old winter raincoat with the belt bunched up funny round the waist (à la little Meghan’s posh white coat in her official engagement photo, but nobody said she could do with shedding a few pounds because it happened to be a chilly day and her belt was tied sort of funny!)

On similar lines, and talking of fat, these Stinging Words are not mine, but were related to me by a colleague. She said she had gone to the doctor one Winter’s day wearing a puffy anorak with her woolly gloves poked into the pocket, and he had asked her how far along her pregnancy was – when she wasn’t. Mind you, she was a bit chunky.

And one from my sister, when she and her husband were trying unsuccessfully for a baby, who kept receiving pamphlets in Air Mail letters from her mother-in-law, about female infertility. Her husband had been trying to intercept the post on his way out to work, to fish out any pamphlets before my sister saw them. But that’s not so much a Stinging Word as a Stinging Action or a Stinging Assumption.

Have any Stinging Words (not too painful to share at this distance in time) remained indelibly seared into your memory over the years?

19 thoughts on ““Words That Stung”

  1. “Any” stinging words? Oh, hell, ALL of them remain — unlike the compliments, which now seemed capable of being more wrong that the other words, though I am mostly referring to junior and senior (public) high school years. Also, though, back in those days, children were not exactly welcomed into an adult room. Everywhere was an adult room, at home and in the larger community. Many of us learned to be as invisible as was needed!

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    1. It always seems to be more difficult to remember compliments than stinging words. Perhaps the sting etches it into our neural pathways…

      Yes, learning to be invisible… or just finding that you are, effectively… although it’s a good way to overhear things.

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      1. LOL, invisibility has its plusses! The truth is almost always somewhere between “What a foxy little chick!” and “Was that a goldfish? BWAHAHA.” An older friend of mine (so, raaather old) relives it often, what her mother said to her when she was a young big-boned girl, “If you were a cow, you’d knock over your own bucket of milk.” People do not realize how their words land, sometimes. They begin a terrible garden that only love can weed.

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      2. Which reminds me of something I forgot when writing the post: aged 16 I was going to accompany my parents to their cycling club’s annual dinner for the first time and there would be (gasp!) boys present who might (gasp!) ask me to dance. Mum had made me a new pink short(ish) dress and dragged me out into the kitchen to show Dad, and he laughed, and remarked ‘Look, she’s got Footballers’ Knees! ‘ I had never really looked at my knees before, but hated them ever after. And hated the dinner in case those (gasp!) boys might be sneering at my great muscular knees.

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      3. *gasp! Merciful heavens, you couldn’t catch a break, could you?! How memorably terrible! Like the 50-year old memory of 2 mean older girls shouting, “Sue–EE!” the moment I came through the cafeteria door that first year or so. One later apologized; one kept on, though and later had her eye blackened, though I’d aimed my uppercut to connect with her jaw. (Did I say that out loud??)

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      4. Ghastly girls. If only I’d thought of simply punching people! I was so tall – and muscular-kneed – if I I’d kept swinging I’d have been bound to connect with something sooner or later. Black eyes all round!

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  2. Not really stinging, but because I tend towards an outlook on life involving fairness, kindness and not totally destroying the planet, I seem to also get referred to as an ‘old hippy’ – which I ain’t!

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  3. Isn’t it sad how the hurtful things people say to us stick with us so much longer than the kind things? I guess it just helps remind us to watch what we say to others, particularly children.
    As for my example, I think the number one would be when my mother used to say, “Well who’s going to look at you anyway?” when I was fretting about my clothes as an angst-ridden teen.

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    1. Oh, goodness. On similar lines, I am reminded of an awful story ‘shared’ with me a long time ago. This lady, as a young teenager, had opened the front door to the family house. The family dog ran out into the road and was killed by a passing motor car. Her mother threw her out, screaming ‘YOU should have died instead!’ She had to walk round and round the block until her mother finally allowed her to creep back indoors.

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  4. What better way to procrastinate than to dip into old posts?

    My father paid me a compliment once. I’d been on diet – I’ve been at least portly all my life. He was walking behind me. “Hmm,” he commented. “Your diet is working. You used to have a backside like a side of beef, and now it’s almost normal. Well done!”

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    1. Why are fathers so awful? That brought back the Christmas before I was sixteen. We had tickets to my parents’ cycling club annual dinner, and there might even be dancing, with young men. I was excited, and terrified. My mother was making me a dress, looking back a terrible thing, out of some bargain pink textured crimplene. She pinned up the hem and took me out to the kitchen to show my Dad.
      Oh look, he chortled – she’s got Footballers’ Knees!
      Reading back over old posts, I tend to realise how self-indulgent and much too long they were. But I suppose that shows one has improved.


      1. I love the way you write. I don’t often feel jealous of someone else’s ability, but I’m afraid I do a little bit with you. You say things the way I would write them, only better and more consistently.

        Fathers … Oy. I feel bad that I didn’t, and don’t, mourn mine more. But really he was quite the asshole. Not a wicked or intentionally cruel man … Just insensitive, controlling, and an asshole.

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      2. That’s so kind of you. And that thing your father said was really horrid. I don’t think parents, and particularly fathers, can have any idea how vital their approval and affection is to their children, and how such hurtful comments can stay with you your whole life.

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      3. He honestly couldn’t understand why it hurt me. And I wish SO MUCH I were one of those strong, determined types who uses that sort of remark as rocket fuel to power them forward. Ashamed to confess I just wilt.

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      4. Yes, me too. A lifetime of wilting and going over and over things, memories that won’t go away, in fact seem to get even more painful over time. But we survive, don’t we? And we are forged in the fire of the damage inflicted on us. Just a little stronger, and more compassionate.

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