While watching a vocabulary-building cartoon show with my grandson, I was fascinated by a segment where they asked kids for their favorite word. (These were real children, not the cartoon variety.) They all instantly fired back a favorite word. No hesitation. Ah, to be young, and live in an uncomplicated world, and not over-think everything.
Do you have a favorite word? Or is that like trying to pick a favorite child? I can’t choose a favorite word, any more than I can choose a favorite song or book or movie. There is a word, though, that I love, and quite a forlorn little vagabond it is. It mostly sits abandoned in a seldom-trod corner of the dictionary, where respectable people no longer wander. I’m taking this word by the hand now, dusting it off, scrubbing its face, putting fresh clothes on it, and presenting it to you for your edification and consideration. Submitted for your approval and adoption: rebuke.
I’m not sure why this word has fallen into disuse, though I have some theories. It’s not because there isn’t an abundant supply of idiots who desperately need a good rebuking. I know quite a collection of them myself; I’m sure you do, too. Right off the top of my head, I can think of 535 of them that go by the collective name of Congress. Why aren’t we rebuking those ne’er-do-wells, who so abundantly deserve it?
I think rebuke’s image problem may be because there’s never been a popular song that showcases it. No “r-e-b-u-k-e, find out what it means to me,” or, “I can’t get no, rebuking action,” or, “rebukin’,rebukin’, rebukin’ on a river.” We need a catchy earworm to plant the seeds of rebuke into suggestible minds. So, songwriters, get on it! Who can come up with a great song about rebuking? Take on this noble cause.
Perhaps the problem is the religious connotations the word carries, like a sack of sins that it doesn’t know where to put down. After all, the Bible contains stern rebukes left and right. So maybe we think we’re being holier-than-thou if we use this word. Maybe we shrink at the thought of placing ourselves on a moralistic pedestal and raining down a verbal whomping. Maybe, in our modern it’s-all-relative society, we’re afraid of appearing to judge anyone. Personally, I’m OK with it.
To rebuke doesn’t mean we consider ourselves to be another Moses, though there are certainly worse role models that we could choose (and that our youth are choosing daily). The dictionary quite simply defines rebuke as “to express sharp, stern disapproval of.” Right now, I’m considering whether I should rebuke the dictionary for ending that definition with a preposition. I must admit that a preposition is something I never end a sentence with. Wait – don’t rebuke me! I’ll rewrite that sentence later. The point is that the word rebuke has no inherent religious content. And surely we can agree that there are people, institutions, acts, concepts, and weather forecasts that are begging for stern disapproval. Shouldn’t we oblige them?
I wonder if our Politically Correct society has bullied us into thinking that no one should be rebuked. After all, right and wrong are slippery concepts, and there are always extenuating circumstances, and they probably had a tough childhood, and an army of lawyers can prove it was our fault, not theirs. We shouldn’t even be buking, let alone rebuking. Banish the concept from our universe, as well as the word itself. To my way of thinking, those are the people who most need a rebuking – preferably, in the public square.
We need to reacquaint our society with our poor little orphan word. This won’t happen overnight, though. We need to take it slowly. I recommend the following steps:
- Admit that there is such a word. Take out your dictionary, or look it up online. Yes, it’s really there. Rebuke is still a word!
- Place it in your mouth and savor its flavor. Wrap your tongue around it. Let it languidly trickle from your mouth: Reeeebuuuuuke.
- Whisper it in a simple sentence. Try, “I must rebuke my puppy for piddling on my pillow.”
- Use it in public. Choose a popular target. Try Congress, or the president, or Justin Bieber. Something along the lines of, “Senator Pork should be rebuked for lining his pockets with our money.”
- Arm your vocabulary with verbal rebuker. Pull out that baby any time it’s called for, and proudly lambast the sorry soul who was begging for it.
And don’t make me rebuke you for sloughing it off.