One of the hallmarks of a well bred woman is her refined speech. It is one of the foremost identifiers of a woman’s character as even the slightest interaction with someone usually involves talking. I am developing certain habits of speech that I believe contribute to my goal of becoming a well bred woman. Please note that I don’t speak a certain way because I think I’m better than another. I have heard since childhood that I must think I’m better than other people because of this way or that way that I acted. And it is true that I was once more judgmental than I hope I am now. However, I’ve trained myself to stop assuming what others are thinking, and I appreciate the same in turn. The following examples of how I pursue refined speech may be taken as inspiration or confirmation for your own journey as a well bred woman in progress.
Let’s begin with what refined speech is not: it isn’t a list of little known “fancy” words that you should add to your vocabulary to appear more sophisticated. In the South, we referred to such a fake show as being high-falutin’ (high fuh-LOO-tin’), and truthfully, adding more high-falutin’ words to your vocabulary doesn’t do much more than make you look, well, high-falutin’. Truly refined speech focuses on tactful subtractions and substitutions in one’s words.
The first category I subtract from my speech is vulgarity, include all words having to do with cursing, swearing, coarseness, or so-called nice or Christian curse words. I am not going to type them here but a quick google search of “Christian curse words” covers the gamut of what I don’t feel comfortable saying (if you must know!).
This is the part where I feel like it’s hard not to cross into “I’m better than you” territory. All I’m trying to say is that you just don’t have to curse or swear. When I was in college I picked up many bad habits including using curse words. When I got back home around my church and family, I found myself biting my tongue a lot, not realizing how pervasive my little slips had become. When I got married I quit the vulgarity cold turkey, and although I have occasionally allowed myself to speak inappropriately over the last 9 years, I know I don’t have to. I never had to. I always had the tools, as does every woman, to express myself without stooping to vulgarity. There is strength, albeit a quiet one, in having consistent morals that one abides by, even in the circumstances that everyone else would be cursing in. That reminds me of my first natural childbirth eight years ago. My midwife was coaching me through the last painful pushes and she kept telling me how well I was doing. (I was terrified!) She said, “Most people would be swearing by now” and I answered “But–I–don’t–swear!!” And she said, “Well, most people who don’t swear would be swearing by now!”
If you are unwilling to give up strong language, perhaps you feel you would be defenseless or powerless without your strong words. In my experience women who tend to use vulgarity sparsely but in extreme circumstances do so in the effort to react to the most extreme situation with equal extremity. However, this is still vulgarity, and although many people do appreciate your not sprinkling your speech with the “f” word like rain in a spring garden, when you do say it, you still said it. You went there, and you used harsh, unrefined speech. I feel sad for women who feel like they have to pull out the occasional curse word to really make a point. You don’t. The people who respect you and take your words seriously will respect your refined speech and your restraint in strongly expressing yourself–and there are plenty of creative ways to make a point that don’t involve four letter words and offensive epitaphs.
Another category I completely avoid are euphemisms for God and Jesus. A euphemism is a more pleasant way of wording a harsher word or phrase, for example saying “passed away” instead of “died.” But in the case of saying God’s name carelessly, any lesser form (“g-sh,” “gee,” etc.) aren’t okay with me. This traces back to my firm Christian upbringing in childhood, but as an adult I still agree with the mindset behind this speech standard.
Another area I desire to limit is the use of slang words. Of course I can’t think of any examples right now! I use some slang such as “mom,” “dad,” and “kids,” but most often I try to use standard words rather than substandard words. This is the area I think I need the most work in currently.
Additionally, I am learning to avoid remarks that malign people groups, that is, ethnic groups or religions. Unfortunately growing up in the South I learned some phrases used by people close to me that I didn’t realize were racist at the time. I am not talking about offensive words for people groups (not giving examples) but rather phrases that ended up being racist due to the judgmental, haughty, narrow mindset behind them. For example: “(skin color) neighborhood”; “all (country of origin) are illegals”; “what did you expect from a _(skin color)_ person?” One needn’t look far on the web these days to find oneself criticized by those on the anti-racist bandwagon, and that’s a good thing. Racism needs to be eradicated forever in the US, and it starts with each individual’s speech and actions including mine. As a young child without much exposure to the world and living in an area of predominately one skin color, I honestly believed my authority figures when they made general statements about people’s religious practices or ethnic groups. While thinking critically about other people’s religion is fine, as it’s a personal choice that should involve mental exertion as well as moral justification, general presuppositions based on fear and rumor are not fine. And who can choose which family they were born into? Judging someone for that makes the least sense of all. I began realizing in college that people are just people. What distinguishes us is our character; it’s all we have, and it’s the thing that is most under our control if we choose to control it.
Besides subtracting the categories of vulgarity, using God’s name in vain, slang, and maligning speech, I am learning to make substitutions in my quest for refined speech. The first area I have really focused on since having children is substituting kindness for callousness or carelessness. We say so much. We give directions, answer questions, place an order, explain ourselves. We have to ask questions and seek directions or explanations. And all of those times that we speak, there are often times that our phrasing, by taking care, can come out kindly instead of unkindly or just plain carelessly. Situations in which to be especially mindful include taking care not to tell someone else how to do their job, taking care not to assume one knows how someone else feels, taking care to offer appreciation for others’ actions and respect for others’ positions, and taking care not to bring up topics one knows are painful for the listener, such as the loss of a child, or an excessive focus on one’s own happiness in an area where the listener has experienced loss.
The other category I am attempting to substitute is restraint for wordiness. Wordy: using or containing many and usually too many words. Perhaps my readers are chuckling now; my blog posts are usually very long and wordy. But, to paraphrase Anne of Green Gables, if you only knew how many words I edited out of my 2nd and 3rd readings before publishing, you’d give me some credit! I have also had several people over the years, including my husband, reprimand me for talking too much. I am starting to see that truly, people do take you more seriously when you speak less because that gives your words more value. As a caveat, the reason my blog posts are long is that my goal is to over-analyze topics that I find interesting. I realize that the post lengths limit the amount of readership I will likely achieve, but gaining readers isn’t the goal of this blog. Still, I edit for clarity.
So what about women who don’t practice any or all of the above characteristics of refined speech? Should we stop our ears and shun them? If you’re thinking that’s what I’m thinking, then maybe this is the first post you’ve read on this blog. I hope to have made it clear over the last few years that I hate judging and am not trying to. I also don’t mean to be condescending. A woman may not possess refined speech simply because she doesn’t know better, or she may have never thought how her speech sounds to other people or affects their perception of her (which perception isn’t ours to control, yet…it still happens). Saying a curse word or choosing carelessness over kindness doesn’t indicate a completely bad character. I believe that refined speech comes from an inward gracious, positive character. So for the woman who may speak roughly out of ignorance or inattentiveness, but who has a good heart and seeks good character, I hope the above examples of ways to pursue refinement in one’s speech may help her in her goal. I know I’ve mentioned it in other posts here, but the best transition from an average woman to a well bred woman is from the inside out, not the outside in. Start with pursuit of good character, such as love, courage, and kindness, and refined speech may follow if you wish it!