Oh, oct-a-gon and a little key-lie, too

Published 8:45 pm Saturday, June 13, 2009

The white on his swim shorts was dirty-orange from the muddy creek water.

His hair was still wet and plastered down on his head, and the sun had toasted his cheeks.

He was absent mindedly scratching a mosquito whelp on his shin with his toes.

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My mind quickly filed the moment in its memory box.

My little grandson was quiet and pensive so we rode in silence until …. “Granma, don’t say ‘key-lie.’ Don’t ever say it.”

Mmmm. After a few moments, I asked the baited question. “Why shouldn’t I say, key-lie?”

“Because it’s Chinese, and it’s a bad word, so don’t say it.”

Now, at this point, I knew that the itch to tell was greater than the itch from the mosquito bite. His toes had gone off duty.

But I’m a wise granma. I wasn’t about to fall for that.

“Well, you don’t say it either, and how do you know Chinese?”

He admitted that he didn’t know Chinese, but a boy on his baseball team did, and he told him that key-lie was a bad word.

“And, Granma, his daddy is a … preacher!”

I expressed shock and disbelief.

“Yeah, he’s a preacher. And his son says key-lie all the time. But it’s Chinese so people don’t know it’s a bad word – unless they are Chinese. Chinese know.”

I explained that if key-lie is a bad word then his friend is saying a bad word whether it’s in Chinese or not. “So, you don’t say it, and I won’t say it either.”

I could tell that he was a little disappointed that he didn’t get to give me the English translation, but this grandma didn’t fall off a turnip truck.

Funny how “bad words” get to be bad words.

When I was growing up, we were daresome to say “bad” words like heck and darn. If I said one of those bad words, Daddy would have probably taken his belt to me, and Mama might have fainted. And, if children said, “shut-up,” their next stop would be the reformatory school.

And, you would burn in hell’s fire if you called anybody a fool. That was in the Bible. We learned that in Sunday school.

But like all young’uns we wanted to try out bad words. Cuss just a word or two to see how it came out.

My friend Julia Faye said devil was a bad word. She’d heard her daddy say it. “Ah, the devil,” he said. So, she went around saying it all the time.

“Ah, the devil,” she said when the door slammed behind her. “Ah, the devil!” when her mama called her in to supper. “Ah, the devil!” when she turned over on her bicycle.

“You’d better stop saying that,” I told her. “The booger man’s gonna git you.”

She said I was a scaredy cat. That I was a baby, and I was scared to cuss. Julia Faye went around telling everybody that she cussed, but I was scared, and she bet they were, too.

Before long, all the young’uns in the neighborhood had their own special cuss word. Somebody got the good ones like “dog-gone it,” “dang” and “hush.” I couldn’t find one to use, and everybody was calling me a fraidy-cat.

One night I was looking under the kitchen sink for jar to put lightning bugs in and found something that looked like a bar of soap, except it was brown.

“What’s this, Mama?” I asked from my squatted position and held it up.

“Put that back,” Mama said. “That’s soap and you don’t have any business with it.”

I went into a full-blown fit of questions.

“What kind of soap? Why’s it under the sink? Why’s it brown? Why’s it slimy? What’s it for?”

Mama said it was Octagon soap and it was for washing out the mouths of children that talked ugly.


I had my word. Octagon.

From then on, I went around saying it all the time, and I really stretched it out, “Oh, Oct-A-gon!”

We played cowboys and Indians all the time. So I told everybody it was an Indian word, but I wouldn’t tell them what it meant. They never knew it was soap to wash the cuss word out of our mouths.

And, if I hear that little grandson of mine, saying key-lie, I just might have to use it.