Today I want to talk about the word butt. I find this word to be a fairly innocuous description of a particular part of the anatomy, even endearing in some ways, especially when compared to other more colorful terms that I know. It was only recently that I found out that “butt” is one of those four-letter words you are not supposed to say in front of children, at least in this part of the country. And this was puzzling to me because when and where I grew-up, the utterance of this word did not ruin a party.
My husband and I were at a Christmas party several years ago in the home of a business associate. The house was aglow in all its holiday glory. There was a cacophony of holiday music, conversation, laughing, and happy, noisy children. I was sitting in front of a roaring fire, sipping a glass of wine and admiring the stockings hung just so from the mantle. It was a Norman Rockwell scene, until…. (cue the soundtrack from Jaws) I innocently remarked that if Santa were to come down the chimney tonight he would burn his butt. The room went completely silent. The bulbs on the tree dimmed. The fire was nearly snuffed out as the oxygen was sucked from the room as everyone simultaneously gasped in horror. The little boy standing nearest to me dropped the toy he was playing with and clutched his face like Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone. He stood there with his mouth agape unable to make a sound. Then he started fanning his face with both hands as though he had the vapors. “You! Can’t! Say! That!” he managed to sputter. And then he said it again, as though I didn’t get it. And apparently I didn’t because I then said, “Can’t say what? Butt? What’s wrong with butt? Is butt a bad word? Who doesn’t say butt?” And it was at that point he ran off screaming, “Mommy! Mommy! She said b-u-t-t!” With nothing more (egregious) that could be done, I lifted my glass to the crowd, said “Bottoms up!” and downed the remainder of my wine. I then collected my husband from behind the curtains where he was pretending to be invisible and we slunk off into the night to destroy more unsuspecting children. Perhaps at the next party I could announce that there is no Santa Clause.
After the Christmas party incident, I wondered what other people thought about The Word That Must Not Be Spoken. So I took an informal poll among my friends and I got a wide and varied response depending on what region of the country I was polling. My friends from the UK use the term bum (or is it truly a 4-letter word, bumm?) My southern friends say “bottom” but will use the word “tail” if the situation warrants, as in “Bucky Joe, you get yoah tail ovuh here right now!” The mid-westerners I polled use the word “behind” and some of my older relatives say “fanny.” And the list goes on and on. It seems everyone has a pet name for their, umm… backside.
I guess the moral of the story is this: When at a party, know what part of the country you’re in and beyond that, sit on it — don’t say it.