Reruns and Leftovers

The Word That Must Not Be Spoken

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.

Several years ago, Antique Daddy and I (Antique Couple at that point) were at a Christmas party 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.

Originally published September 2006, back when my brain wasn’t soggy.

58 thoughts on “The Word That Must Not Be Spoken

  1. We say tush (or for Harry, tushie). Or occasionally butt. Or sometimes I will degenerate into a New Yorker and use the term tuckus.

    My family’s language can be so, um, colorful, that I doubt it would even cause a pause in conversation.

  2. Don’t forget about the Southern coastal – “Mah derriere.” Hee hee. We’re both from the South, but husband doesn’t understand what’s wrong with “butt” in front of kids, either. Especially since when used on children, he says it in his “cute” voice and usually doubles it up to create the darling phrase, “your butt-butt.” (Sigh.) I use the word “bummy” with my daughter, and it seems to get the job done, communication-wise. And it doesn’t seem too coarse to hear coming out of HER mouth, which is a nice bonus.

  3. This is so funny! We…here in SW Missouri…don’t care how it is said. We use the word butt in my home. I will say, ” Do you want your butt busted?” It is the 3 letter word that is off limits.

  4. Interesting point… I grew up in TX, and we don’t use the word butt b/c it’s socially unacceptable. I don’t really know why. We use bottom.

  5. Tushie’s a fav here for the “G” rated set, although I personally prefer the three letter version. Butt is a grey area. We typically use the “if s/he said it in front of the Rabbi would we spontaneous combust from embarassment?” rule of thumb.

    Not sure where Butt falls on that continuum yet…

  6. This is funny! I have a love/hate relationship with words like butt or crap. I say them, but don’t like it when my children say it. It’s not a punishable offense. However, sometimes those words just work. And I have recently used the word butt in my blog. I wonder how many people I offended?? Maybe I should take a poll?

  7. LOL this is too funny! I live in Texas and I don’t know about everyone else here but we say butt and think nothing of it. I will say that I learned real quick you shouldn’t say “fart”. My child said it one time at mother’s day out and I was called into the office and told that he had said “the “F” word”! Oh my, I couldn’t believe it because I doubted at that time had ever even heard that word because we sure didn’t use that!!! It took a lot of talking and prying before I understood that they meant the word FART! LOL

  8. I’m with Lisa. I use the word “butt” but don’t really love it when it comes out of my 4 year-old’s mouth. Same with crap and even shoot. But I don’t think it would bother me so much if my 4 year old were 14. Definitely a regional thing, but I guess it also seems to have something to do with innocence? Just a thought.

  9. I was the youngest child in my family. We say butt in my house. And fart. And we talk about poop. And we laugh a lot when we do it.

  10. I personally like hiney, keester, and (my son and daughters fav) BO-Hine.

    My kids think butt, stupid, crap, & shut-up are bad words.

    I don’t really mind butt, but would rather not hear it out of my kids mouths. I do beleive I have heard my pastor say the word butt though…hmmm…might have to report him to the sphincter police.

  11. I say bum. I’m with the horrified child at the party: we don’t say butt. I find it, umm, ugly. Now, I must admit that most Canadians of my generation say bum though I do believe the yung’uns–influenced by American TV–do say butt more often.

    I’m teaching my children to say bum though they love to say butt and got really excited when they learned that the “holding” end of a hockey stick is called a butt. And the French word for boots is remarkably similar to butt.

  12. When I was growing up, we couldn’t say the word butt (or fart for that matter) and just out of habit, I’m doing the same with The Boy. Although, I catch myself using much worse words than that around him to this day, so my efforts at keeping his mouth pristine are probably all for naught!

  13. Mmm, I say butt all the time, even as proper names: Butt Head, Butt Munch, etc.

    I think the folks around me should just be glad I’m not saying a-double-s.

    BTW, I got a similar reaction when I was chaperoning a youth lock-in at church, got a carpet burn playing a game and I said “crap!” Turns out even my husband thought it inappropriate. Who knew??!

  14. I’m torn on this one. I was raised that butt was extremely inappropriate. And I was compliant with this until high school, when I learned that there really were many more extremely inappropriate words out there. So, I was obedient to my mother in her house. And when I had kids, I automatically started the whole butt-as-inappropriate cycle all over again, but as a Navy family, we have lived in many different places and I have found that fighting this battle takes up way too much energy. Bottom line (no pun intended): ALMOST EVERYONE SAYS BUTT. My kids know that I’d rather they say bottom or bum, but, really, there are just so many battles you can fight when you have 3 kids. And I’ve been guilty of it myself, when trying to get the kids to laugh. There’s an old Saturday Night Live skit where a little kid (an actor pretending to be a kid) says: “You know what?” “What?” says the other actor. “Chicken butt!” says the kid. And it makes NO SENSE whatsoever, but when my hubby and I saw it years ago, we laughed and laughed, because we are just that easily entertained. And, I’ve learned, if the kids are blue and in need of a smile, they like it, too.
    My mother must be so proud.

  15. We don’t say butt, crap, shut-up, or stupid. Well, are not supposed to. It does slip out from time to time…sometimes from the princess and sometimes from her parents.

    We say bootie…just ’cause I think it is the cutest thing ever when the princess says bootie.

  16. I find Butt to be harmless, but agree with most that it is unbecoming to hear it from a little one. We say “Bon-Bon”, or have tried to. Also, when the kids were just a bit younger, I used to say, “You’re gonna fall and hurt your “B-I-J-J”. They thought that’s how we spelled Butt. It was cute to hear them say that in the grocery aisle or somewhere public, because no one knew what they were talking about:) Speaking of things at the grocery, I also told them the candy in the check-out lane wasn’t for sale, it was just a display. They’ve since found me out!
    Oh, and my least favorite is the word stupid and my MIL uses it constantly. Of course, she doesn’t call them stupid, but will say that something they DID was a stupid choice. I think it’s really hard for a child to distinguish the context and it makes me mad! Well, it’s on a long list, anyway.

  17. hahaha, my daughter is learning new words, in Spanish though, and we say “popín” to be nice, but usually “poto”…well, whenever she says poto, I tell her “no, poto no, popín”…and so now instead of using either word she says ” nonopotonopopín”.

  18. (without accents) hahaha, my daughter is learning new words, in Spanish though, and we say “popin” to be nice, but usually “poto”…well, whenever she says poto, I tell her “no, poto no, popi­n”…and so now instead of using either word she says ” nonopotonopopi­n”.

  19. I have to agree, I am not a butt user. I say bottom or biscuits or pockets. I have been seriously teased by family and friends for being so rigid. I think hearing those off-color words come out of my young’ens motivates me to watch my words.

    Anyway, thanks for the laugh. I can totally see your husband hiding behind the curtains!

  20. I’m with some of those who thought butt wasn’t a problem until it came out of the mouths of their children. Funny how that is – something I said for years didn’t sound bad at all, until one of my sweet little boys used it. When they were younger (they’re 13 & 12 now), we used “bum.” Of course, sometimes that makes me giggle (cue up SNL again) because of an old Mike Myers’ skit about Simon, the boy in the bathtub, making comments about “cheeky bum-lookers.” But I still liked bum better than the other options. 😀

  21. I grew up saying butt, but not crap or fart. So we are teaching our kids to say bum bum or booty and they say toot. I just don’t like the way it sounds coming out of their mouths! I grew up in Oregon and now live in Florida! My hubby agrees although he could say whatever. His brothers cuss in front of their parents!

  22. We do not say the “b” word, “s” word, “h” word, OR “d” word. . .butt, stupid, hate, or dumb.

    Around here “butt” is considered a “potty word.”

    All of the above listed rules came from the mouths of my own children without any direction from me. Lets hope the trend continues so I can keep up with my soap operas and bon-bon consumption.

  23. We say “buns.” It doesn’t seem to be too offensive. Also, we might say “pockets”, like “Everyone sit down on their pockets.” (I’m a teacher, so I actually do say that!)

  24. We never said the b-word in my house. In fact, the p-word (three letter word meaning tinkle) was also off limits. We call that peeps.

    I have to agree with my mom. They just sound tacky coming out of the mouth of children. And the latter is something I couldn’t even TYPE, to this day. Oh, and the c-word meaning poo? Don’t even get me started on that one.

    I grew up saying bottom or especially boonie. I also say bee-hind. Toosh and bum are also cute, but I don’t use them.

    My husband grew up with a household of boys and says butt. There, I typed it. I’m waiting for the lightning to strike my keyboard. Nope. Whew!

    Something about living with a man has made me a bit less prim and ladylike. And he’s a little less of a caveman. It’s a nice compromise.

    As an adult, I would never be shocked to hear another adult say butt. It’s kind of funny, from a grown up. If someone said that around my child I also wouldn’t be bothered. It’s not like it’s a CURSE word! It just isn’t the phrase we use in our family and I don’t want to hear it out of their mouth.

  25. I was actually thinking about blogging this very thing. My mother is horrified by the word butt, maybe that is why I use it. LOL

    We also say boobs. *shhhh* Oh, wait, never mind, my two year old will tell you all our secrets with very little prompting. ;O)

  26. When I was growing up we got in trouble for saying pregnant. Seems so Victorian now.

    Pockets is totally new for me. But what if you just have on stretchy pull on pants without pockets? Now that I have child, I don’t let him say butt, primarily because I don’t want him to be a social pariah and I will agree, it doesn’t sound that great. We also say toot instead of the other word. Don’t ask me why, I just can’t stand to say it.

    At church last Sunday, someone in the pulpit said “idiot” and Sean clapped his hand over his mouth and hissed “He’s not supposed to say that!”

  27. I was raised to never say that word, and I never did, until I got a Pembroke welsh corgi. Now, I can’t help it. What else can you call them, but “bunny butt?”
    Poop was never said until I got dogs, either. These canines have totally brought me to a new low. Thank God my kids are grown.

    The kicker for me in language was when I said “crap” in church. Well, not actually during Mass, but in the sanctuary. That was a couple of years ago, and the lightening still hasn’t gotten me.

  28. AM, you aren’t the only one who sticks their foot in their mouth – repeatedly. By the grace of God my boys have all been diligent on the language. Shut-up is the mother of all swear words and don’t even think about saying stupid. When I say crap they just shake their heads (I use to say something else so this is a step up for me). They have never said butt – usually bootie or tuckus. I’m not sure who’s kids I have but I’m keeping them!!

  29. My husband said the word “stupid” in a prayer for communion once. “Forgive us Lord for the stupid things we’ve done.” The three boys I was sitting by at church about fell out of their seats…shocked that the “s” word was spoken at such a holy moment.
    🙂 It was before we had kids, and hadn’t thought through our vocabulary choices yet.

  30. We use all sorts of words for it. There is nothing wrong with “butt.” Thats just silly. It IS a butt. I suppose you could just get technical at all times and say gluteus maximus.
    I can see maybe the kid being freaked by it if his parents don’t allow the word, but the whole room? LOL Bunch a fuddy duddies!

  31. Huh. It never occurred to me that that would be an offensive word. It certainly isn’t in my neck of the woods (PA). I wonder what other words are offensive, to some, that I never thought about…

  32. I tell my children off if they say fart or call another child stupid. They know never to say *rap!

    I don’t mind ‘butt’ it’s nicer than *ss

  33. I grew up in Southern California in a Quaker household. I NEVER say “butt” — I say “rear end” and so do my kids. “Butt” is the “B” word and “stupid” is the “S” word.

  34. Here around the maypole we say bottom (well, usually, my daughter did pick up “Butt” from the lovely children at school). I wouldn’t stop a whole party if I heard it, though. I prefer bottom, but “butt” is fairly innocuous.

  35. Hee hee! I have enjoyed this! I grew up terribly proper, and then married a helicopter pilot who used to work in the oil field offshore. Our house is full of oilfield men with colourful languages, and my 3 boys know every cuss word there is… But I have seldom ever heard them use them. They all went through a phase at about 2 years old where they would experiment with words, but I explained that those words hurt people’s feelings. They are not allowed to call anyone names, and they really don’t, but I overheard my 9-year-old muttering curses under his breath when trying to fix a motor recently, and I had to have a word with him!

  36. When I was a child, I thought “butt” was such a bad word that I tried to get around using “but” as a conjunction, for fear that someone would misunderstand and take offense. I think I was the only child in my school writing “however” into a paragraph in first grade.

    Oddly enough, my mother now talks to my son all the time about his butt. She says it was never an off-limits word in my childhood. I’m thinking the “say bottom, not b-u-t-t” mentality was instilled by my own grandmother.

  37. We usually say “tushie” but accidentally let the word “butt” slip. As a result, my son calls his bottom a “tushie butt.” Nice compromise, don’t you think?

  38. My daughter thinks the FRONT bits are her butt!

    Around here, butts are also cuts of meat, the ends of cigarettes, or you can “butt heads” with somebody. It’s not any more naughty to say than rump or rear . .

  39. I grew up in Texas and “butt” wasn’t ever appropriate. We either use “bottom” or my personal favorite that always gives me a giggle: “hiney”. My grown kids, now in their older 20’s, use “butt” now and I’ve found some occasional reasons to use the term but I always feel a bit awkward doing it.

  40. I live in the south. Butt is the word of choice in my household. 😀 My brother and I weren’t allowed to say butt when we were growing up.

  41. This is so funny because I had a very similar experienced at the park. Jordan was standing on the slide and I told him to “slide down on his butt”. I couldn’t believe the horrified looks I got from the other parents. Sheesh. I coulda said ass.

  42. I had a kindergarten teacher that said buttocks. It made us all giggle. In our house we prefer bum. My dad says butt and a few days ago I told him not to say b-u-t-t (I spelled it cause the kids were around) and my 3 1/2 year old came back with, “yes papa, we say bum.” Who knew she knew how to spell butt when we can’t even say it?

  43. I have wondered before why there was such variance on this–I wasn’t allowed to say it as a child, and although I don’t see it as being as offensive as your traditional cuss words, I have taught my kids not to say it as well, because it’s tacky. So now I see that it’s a Southern thing, along with the words “tacky” and “cuss”.

  44. Now I know why UK bum-bags are called fanny-packs in the US! Fanny is a politeish euphemism for the girls to call their private parts for us. We are in South Africa which combines UK English with an overlay of US expressions

    Bottom is the straight word and bum is slightly risque for the kids, but they’ve also adopted the word butt from watching movies, which also causes giggles!

  45. We’ve always said “butt” in our house… although our aerobics instructor who says “butt” seems to be a rarity here in MI!

    I’m glad Kit brought up “fanny” — that’s also what it means to Australians, as I recently learned from an Aussie friend.

    I guess we have to be careful with our words when we travel or move to another region… but more than that, we should be gracious when people use words we find inappropriate!

  46. We grew up with my mother saying, “Behave or I will blister your butt!” She meant it too! I was born in OH moved to FL at 13, and I still live here.

    We use butt, fart, and poop around the house, but the kids all know that there is a time and a place for everything. As a Cubmaster, I have about 65 boys that I have to talk to on a regular basis, about their “colorful” language. Each family is a little different from the next. All regions of the US, all religious backgrounds, and all different family dynamics. After hearing it all, butt doesn’t seem so bad.

  47. This made me laugh out loud (but honestly, so many of your posts do!…you are such a great writer!). Neways, in the Eason household here in Orange Park,FL…we say “Rear-End”.

  48. Oh, yeah. We say butt all the time. I mean, when it’s called for. In fact, I used the word on my blog today.

    One time, though, I said “crap,” which I grew up thinking was a fine word for “junk,” until a minister’s little daughter gasped at me….

  49. I didn’t say “butt” until I was well grown. Now, we try to remember to say “hiney” but I’m still not sure what’s wrong with butt.

  50. just to note i’m from oregon us, and crap is supposedly a bad word here, but not butt (except as in up your butt or similar derogatory phrases) or fart. hell is only considered bad here by what i have to admit are rather scary people. shut-up is only looked down on by the catholic schools as well, for a point of reference.

    lol butt and crap are not bad words. they are replacements for the ‘bad’ words ass and shit. they cannot therefore be considered bad words. if you start doing that next you won’t be able to say bum, or tush, or poo, or even number 2. these ppl are retarded or pathetic, and seek to coddle not protect and instruct.

    personally i think this goes for the word hell as well. its a place, location, noun used to describe an area that is believed to exist by certain religions. just because its a bad place doesen’t make it a bad word.

    -and kimberly i was laughing my BUTT off about the fart thing. what? was the kid supposed to pronounce flatulate?

  51. I am ecstatic about stumbling onto this page. I grew up in Texas and married a woman from PA. She always said “bum.” I never got it. For a long time I thought since the Red Skelton form of the word “bum” had been replaced by “homeless,” that it must’ve freed up “bum” in PA to be used for the buttocks. But she also used the term “you’ns” as the plural form of “you” (how ridiculous; everyone knows that it’s y’all). Whenever she said “you’ns” I’d always inquire as to whether she was referring to J.R. or Sue Ellen. Another “butt” related example of me aggravating those who use normal words in alien forms, is when people say “bottom” as if it will keep their mouth from becoming dirty. I always ask, “bottom of what?”

    Thanks for the laugh. It’s truly amazing about how philosophical we can become over things like this.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *