Hibbles and cussers

In the home in which I was raised there were at least two things you didn’t want to get caught doing (a) being a hibble and (b) cussing.

Our mother did not like hibbles. Hibble (my spelling) is a Low German word and I have been unable to find an official definition. We Huisman kids understood a hibble to be someone who is whiney and finicky. Mom did not like whiney, finicky kids.

If we complained about something on the dinner table, for instance, Mom would say, “Don’t be a hibble. If you don’t like something on the table eat something else or go to bed hungry.” My physique bears witness to the fact that I never went to bed hungry. I was not a hibble.

Cussing was a more serious infraction. Our parents did not use strong language and they expected their children to refrain from the practice as well.

While no cursing was acceptable, the use of the Lord’s name and the f-word were strictly off limits. They were considered close to the Unpardonable Sin.

I am the oldest of six children four boys and two girls, in that order. I left home when my sisters were quite small so I was never a witness to their use of profanity but we boys the oldest three in particular knew quite a few cuss words and we knew how to use them. (I’m not stupid; I’ll bet my sisters cussed, too.)

Shakespeare said that discretion is the better part of valor and we brothers practiced discretion. Most of the time we only swore when our parents weren’t around. When Mom and Dad left us alone for an evening the cuss words came out and were well exercised.

In instances when a bad word slipped out in our parents’ presence there was usually a price to pay. I remember a slap across the face for cussing. Brother Dave got his mouth washed out with soap. On his second offense Mom washed his mouth out with bar soap and then rubbed the bar across his teeth a few times for a longer lasting lesson. Dave still remembers.

We all grew up and thanks to our parents’ loving discipline we don’t offend our mother with strong language nowadays. Unfortunately, I never forgot any of those words and when I’m angry they have a way of slipping out.

Dad always told me to use a substitute word, like “baloney,” when I am angry. And I always reminded him that when I hit my thumb with a hammer “baloney” is not the word that spontaneously comes to my lips.

I really believe I could abolish cuss words from my vocabulary all together if I didn’t have to drive on public highways. There are so many idiots on the highway and it seems they are all out to irritate me.

I have been working this year to control my temper and, accordingly, my tongue.

What complicates matters for me is having grown up in rural Iowa where speech patterns can be earthier. That stuff in the barnyard was never called feces and the word many farmers used was acceptable… on the farm. Though I haven’t worked on a farm for nearly 50 years some of those words remain in that part of my brain closest to my speech center.

I slipped royally at work one day. When I was a kid in the country I learned to “never get into a (urinating) match with a skunk.” I use a parenthetical euphemism here to protect innocent eyes.

A couple of years ago when my boss and I were discussing a difficult individual and he asked me what I would do, I responded with a sincere, “I sure wouldn’t get into a (urinating) match with him.” I failed to use the more delicate euphemism in that statement.

My boss looked surprised at my country candor. I quickly apologized. He kindly said, “Don’t worry; I know what it means.”

I am not now nor have I ever been a hibble and I’m making progress on improving my vocabulary.

As I have grown older, I have come to understand the Proverb that says, “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue keeps himself out of trouble.” (Proverbs 21:23 ESV) Unfortunately, it’s taken a long time for me to understand that.

At least I’m not a hibble.