My Scarlet Letter


I heard a person call another person the “R” word the other day.  It is a word that is used to make fun of people for acting dumb or doing something stupid.  The original use for the word, now replaced, was to identify people who had intellectual or physical delays or non-traditional development.  That word is offensive to me, especially when used in jest and so I correct it most of the time when I hear someone use it.  It is always better and more respectful to use “people first” language before using an adjective.  For example, the” girl on crutches,” rather than “that crippled girl.”  She is a person first—her abilities don’t define her.


Recently I was reminded of my own slip up with a derogatory adjective.  It was my wedding day in 1991 and I was getting my hair done at a very well-known salon in the small southern town where I grew up.  The gentlemen who worked there were talented local stylists and well-loved by everyone, including me.  It was the only place I wanted to go and I didn’t even tell him what I wanted my hair to look like, because I knew he would do a great job and make me look like a million bucks.  We chatted and laughed and had such a great time.


I used the most flippant, ignorant, clueless, oblivious adjective almost under my breath between conversations.  I described an overexposed boy band song that came on the radio with one very loaded word. 

“They are so “G.”

And , no, I did not mean “gangsta.”  Because that wasn’t even a thing in 1991.

He stopped, mid-‘do and said, “What did you just say?” ‘Oh, I said, they were….uh….I just meant I didn’t like them and…uh….I’m sick of that song.”

Even as I said it, I realized how unintentionally cruel I had just been to the guy who was taking good care of me on a very special day.

He did not continue the conversation. 

I had no way of making it better with more words.  I really couldn’t express what I meant. 

The song was overplayed?

The band was a one-hit wonder?

I’m sure they were actually quite talented, come to think of it.

I was just nervous and hyper-sensitive and wanting my day to be perfect.

I was just making inane small talk and it totally TOTALLY backfired.

I must say, my guy handled himself with such grace and dignity and professionalism, though it was awkward to say the least, until I left.

He had pulled some of my hair back from my face, most of it was left down.

He suddenly couldn’t find any bobby pins, but he came up with a brilliant solution.

A red hair barrette.  Exactly like the one on the right. 

red barrette

In my hair.

On my wedding day.

On the back/top of my head.

He assured me it wouldn’t show, but I’m pretty sure he meant for it to.  I deserved it.

We were running out of time.

I felt so terribly guilty.

I paid and scurried out.

And 23 years later when I remember the joy of my wedding day, that slight of tongue resides among the tossed bouquet, the shower of birdseed, and the limo ride.   I have never forgotten my stupidity. 

“All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue.  It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.”  James 3:7-8



2 responses »

  1. This week I had a similar conversation with Matt about his use of that word in that manner. He agreed that it was wrong of him and vowed to be more aware of how using words like that and the R word in a derogatory manner are hurtful. It was a simple conversation and hopefully it will stick.

    And don’t worry– nobody was looking at the top of your head on your wedding day. I sure wasn’t. 😉

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