My Japanese high school students are doing group work on the pros and cons of the Internet, and I’m challenging them to come up with something more creative than “The Internet is bad because danger!” when a word pops out at me. A student has doodled a cute wide-eyed character on the bottom of her team’s paper, and drawn a speech bubble with the words “Fuck You!!”
Gently, I point at the words on her paper and test her, “What does this mean?”
“I don’t know,” she replies in English, gesturing ignorance with open hands. “I often see it on the Internet,” she explains in Japanese. I wonder if she is feigning innocence to avoid getting into trouble, but I’m 95.7 percent sure that she honestly has no clue. This class is about the Internet, after all, and she is grasping for any words she knows on the subject.
There are more than a few “F” words out there. Words that make us flinch, cringe, or recoil in horror, depending on their usage. Words that hold different meaning to different people, words that are neutral or positive for some and very negatively charged for others. Freedom. Father. Fertility. Foreigner. Feminism. Faith. Even farting: something everyone does… but never talks about. Unless you’re an eight-year-old boy. Or married.
“Future” is the recurring F-word that manages to send me spinning at times. It gains potency before major life changes: in the waning days of high school. Amid the fading moments of university life. It bothers me, not so much due to the uncertainty as to the need to answer to every well-meaning inquirer. And now, with less than a year left on my work contract in Japan, with no idea of what I’ll be doing next or even what part of the world I’ll be living in, it’s taunting me again. If left to my own devices I would meander along, content to see where the path goes, or wander off the path and make my own trail, but the world seems to want me to have a plan, a set of measurable goals, an exit strategy.
I recently stumbled into the pool of driven, ambitious self-promoters on LinkedIn. Browsing profiles of old colleagues and classmates is equal parts encouraging and depressing. Encouraging to see where people with similar backgrounds and qualifications as me have ended up. Depressing because I have no fancy title, I’m *just* an English teacher in Japan. I’m many things: a writer, a thinker, a wanderer. But in concrete, LinkedIn terms, I am mostly what my job title says I am.
I’m an English teacher. With a 15-year-old girl from the countryside looking up at me with big, inquiring eyes. I know the mysteries of “gaikoku,” of the lands outside of the bubble that is her Japan, of the meaning of the words on her page.
I kindly explain the word she has written is not a nice word in English, and that if another teacher who knows English sees it, she might get in a lot of trouble. Her eyes widen and she quickly erases the phrase, replacing it with “I love you!!”
I get to spend my time with some of the sweetest, most innocent high schoolers in the world. No wonder they think the Internet is so “danger!”
Do you have an Other “F” Word? Or a word by any other first letter that makes you flinch, cringe, fly into a state of panic or otherwise react adversely? Share in the comments below!