Friday, March 5, 2010


“Mommeeee. Jeffrey’s using big words again.”

She couldn’t have been more than three or four years old, but she definitely did not like her older brother, probably around twelve years old, using words she didn’t understand. Jeffrey, on the other hand, seemed to revel in poking his little sister with verbal jabs.

“Oh Lucy,” Jeffrey said. “Don’t be such a pillock.”

“Momeee,” Lucy implored of her mom.

“Now Jeffrey,” his mom said. “You know that bothers your sister. Please don’t do it.”

“But mom,” he said. “I’m just trying to help Lucy mature.”

Lucy shot back, “Mommy, I don’t want to manure.”

“Mature, honey, not manure. You don’t want to mature. And you don’t have to for a long time yet. Jeffrey, you need to apologize to your sister for upsetting her.”

“Okay,” Jeffrey said. He looked at his sister and offered this apology. “Lucy, I’m sorry you’re such a pillock and you don’t have to be manure until you’re older.”

“Mommeeee!” Lucy screamed.

“Jeffrey! Stop it! Now!” his mom said with finality. “Now apologize the right way.”

He looked at Lucy and said simply, “I’m sorry.” Then he turned aside and half-whispered to himself, “I’m sorry you’re such a pillock.”

Thankfully, his sister didn’t hear him.

I thought a lot about that scene today. I knew it was more than a cute story. It says as much about relationships and conflict as it does about messages given and messages received.

It illustrates a number of age-old axioms and anti-axioms. For example, the squeaky wheel gets the oil. What I said is not necessarily what you heard. If momma ain’t happy, nobody’s happy. Nothing cuts as deep as a sharp tongue. When in doubt, call your mom. Blood is not always thicker than water.

I was telling my wife the story and asked her what she thought the moral was.

“That’s easy,” she said, almost immediately. “If you want to confound your adversary, use words he or she does not understand.”

Wow, I thought. That’s profound. I like it. I like it a lot. It is insightful and, at least for me, it really provokes thought. And sometimes, the best advice is that which indeed provokes us to think.

See you Monday.

(And for those who are as unfamiliar as I was with the word pillock, it is British slang for a stupid or annoying person.)

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