Sticks and Stones and Shirley

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.”

Heard that before? It was a common refrain around my school playground when I was a kid. But is it true?

Some words I just dismiss. I figure the person using them either doesn’t know what they mean or never made it past junior high. Maybe both.

But what about when a word is used to intentionally wound or otherwise diminish, particularly when it’s aimed at the soft under-belly of a target who’s already down?

You can recover from the physical injuries of sticks or stones. But the emotional wounds from verbal abuse? That’s when words hurt.


A close friend of mine is married to a guy I’ve never really liked. Let’s call her Shirley. We’ll call her husband Rodney.

Fifteen years Shirley’s senior, Rodney seems “a nice guy.” At least from a distance. He’s retired, so he cooks. Cleans. Changes the oil in the vehicles without being asked. Rodney brings her flowers and takes her out to dinner when it’s not their anniversary.  He’s a snappy dresser and a gifted musician. In many respects, Rodney is the epitome of Mr. Uber House Hubby.

But he’s got a mouth on him like you wouldn’t believe.

Public domain

I recently spent a long weekend visiting with Shirley and House Hubby. It was like navigating a mine field.

They differed over how long to cook the brussel sprouts. She wanted to go out for Mexican. He wanted burgers. He drove too fast. She drove too slow. She wanted more A/C. He liked it hot. She wanted to play volleyball. He preferred softball. She wanted to watch News. He wanted NCIS.

Every disagreement resulted in a Rodney Meltdown. He sank his verbal fangs into Shirley like a hungry pit viper.

It didn’t stop with petty disagreements.

“Isn’t it time you got your fat a** outta bed?” was the Rodney version of “good morning.” To. His. Wife.

“Make sure you have time to put your face on,” he tossed over his shoulder to Shirley as he warmed up the car. “Shall I get a trowel?”

Trowel For Flowers

Public domain

Rodney was also a master at The Public Putdown. We met three other couples for dinner one night.  Rodney came up with one zinger after another at his wife’s expense. They were the kind of barbed comments that everyone laughs at, except the target.

When I objected, Rodney said he was “just kidding. Can’t you take a joke?”

Can you hold still so I can smack you?

I said something to Shirley about it later in the ladies room. “We’re just bantering,” she said, shrugging. “It’s all in good fun.”

Excuse me?

“I bet you and Chris banter like that,” Shirley opined. “Nope,” I said. “And that’s not ‘banter.’ That’s acting like a horse’s ass.”

Image result for horse's ass

Flickr- CC0 license

I told her I thought Rodney is verbally abusive. “No, he’s not!” she responded, defensive. “We’re just teasing.”

Are sticks and stones more hurtful than words?

Do you know a “Shirley”? What would you say to her?





Horse image credit.

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