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"Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones...

Updated on March 30, 2011

The words and the knife-like fingers...take care!

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...but words will never hurt me"

“This archaic saying must be one of the most quoted in the English language. It popped into my mind for no reason this morning and I began to really wonder if it is true. I mean, the first part obviously is: sticks and stones have indeed broken many bones throughout man's history, and one only had to watch the TV footage on the demo-riots in Trafalgar Square last weekend to see that they, along with bottles, barriers, clubs and truncheons, were still doing an admirable job of living up to their notoriety.

But..."Words will never hurt me?" That is so blatantly untrue as to be funny. Who hasn't been hurt by harsh and critical words from friends and lovers to the point of nearly being reduced to tears? Perhaps whoever composed this smug saying was thinking of the long-term effect? Well I can confess I still feel the pain from things said to me ten, twenty and more years ago - especially when they were of criticism that was at least in part, true.

I will now reveal one of the most hurtful thing ever said to me. It was said by a Jewish businessman who I had thought was a friend. He said, "Robert, when I look at you, I see nothing." Anyone who says words can't hurt should have been in my shoes at that moment. I literally went into shock, the blood drained out of my face and time stood still for at least a minute. "Sam," I finally croaked. "I thought we were friends" Rage then replaced the feeling of shock and I jumped up and probably said "F--- you!" and walked out of his office - before I lashed out at him. I have never seen this "good friend" again - he died some years ago - and I sometimes wonder if he regretted these harsh words to someone who admired, liked tremendously and trusted him.

The trouble was, or course, that although I was so hurt and bewildered that he would say something like that (I had been really close to him and his wife), when I stood back and thought about it, I could see why he saw me the way he did. part of it was, I think, because I was tall, slim and handsome back then with a really sexy young wife (no more on both counts) and Sam was short, much older and hardly pleasing on the eye. He must have contrasted what I appeared to be and have with the fact I was out of work and selling "fayuca" (contraband) in Mexico I brought in from the States (That will tell you it wasn't drugs!). So I had lots of spare time to sit in his grungy little office drinking coffee in his "taller de mofles" (muffler shop) a few yards from my flat. I think now he must never have liked me although he always made me welcome when I dropped in several times per week over the year of our acquaintance. I guess I should finish this account now before you all go to sleep.

I have also been hit with sticks and even bottles in my long life (and shot at by police and one mother-in-law - they missed!). But none of these physical assaults left the indelible marks of pain like Sam's remark, and others I have received from people close to me.

This is why today I try to never criticise or hurt friends with "mere" words.

I am sorry girls, but some women just can't reign themselves in where correcting we poor men are concerned! I am alone in life at the moment and I have tried dating sites like POF and others. I have done so regularly for the last 5 years and, by choice, have been on ONE date on all this time! But I can't say it's been a waste because I do stand - or sit - well corrected in most departments of my life by the 20 or so women I have corresponded with!

Oh, the date? She was lovely, but turned her nose up at my car, my ideas. She even said on the first (and only) date, "What is the most money you have ever had in the bank?" She was not impressed with the figure. She was lovely and a character all right, but chain-smoked and drank constantly. The weekend cost me a small fortune by my modest lights and put me off internet dating for good. (To this point anyway).

We repeat this flawed mantra about the "Sticks and Stones," but how much trauma, wars, deaths, unhappiness has been caused by incautious mouths? When I was in the RN we said "Loose lips sink ships." That referred more to military secrets, but I wonder how many lives has been lost after the command, "Screw the b-------s, open fire!" Or even "Bover asswipe" in the neighbourhood bar.

In fact, violence is nearly always after dialogue fails and communication is lost. How many conflicts, both personal and national, could have been avoided if kind words and attempted understanding had replaced the "F---k you!" element with the guy at the bar, or, couched in diplomatic legalese prepared by the United Numbskulls, the "You do as we say, or we will begin a no-fly zone tomorrow!" (With bombs and rockets to follow).

Well, I think I have made the point and you will all have plenty of your own examples of how you have been just as hurt with cruel words and criticism - even if it was perhaps true to some degree.

I don't even want to go into the minds of the folks who ammended the old saw to "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but whips and chains excite me," Was it a song lyric?

But perhaps we should say "Sticks and stones and unkind words will often scar and hurt me."


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    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 5 years ago from North Texas

      I think this is one of your most exceptional hubs and I hope you won't mind that I have put a link for this hub in my hub titled, "Teaching Your Children Empathy and Helping Them Develop Emotional Literacy."

      Hope all is well with you, Bobby. xx

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 6 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Thanks babe. You're up late and I'm up early.

      Bob x

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 6 years ago from North Texas

      Sticks and stones can hurt my bones, but words can hurt forever. Especially unkind words to a child by anyone, but especially someone important to them.

      Going to vote you up and awesome on this hub, Bobby. It's great. xx

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 7 years ago from UK and Mexico

      So true. If dads put as much into positive reinforcement with the kids as they do in their business, we would have model adults appearing. In Britain, parents seem to think their only job is feeding and clothing while one and all get on with their own lives. I am not one to lecture on parenting, but child cruelty I have experienced: mental, physical and lack of any role models. Bob

    • profile image

      writeronline 7 years ago

      Very thought provoking hub, Diogenes. Obviously I agree with you and others that verbal abuse is as deep and as lasting as the physical version. Especially to kids, who haven’t yet developed the coping skills that life teaches adults.

      But I also feel that non-verbal abuse is equally invidious, where kids are concerned.

      How often do we see a little kid doing something they’re proud of at a park, or on a sports field, or being kind to an animal, even being polite to an old fart, like you and me, but receiving no positive reinforcement whatsoever. Mum’s busy on the mobile, Dad’s yelling encouragement to the ‘real star’ of the team, or abusing the volunteer ref... No-one notices the small kindness to a pet; in fact the only verbal reaction in all these scenarios is the one from Mum, or a ‘responsible adult’ telling them not to talk to old men / strangers...

      Breaks my heart not to be able to compliment small kids (apart from my grandkids) on their small achievements, especially when you can see from their faces how much they’d love it if someone actually acknowledged them... with a few encouraging words.

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 7 years ago from UK and Mexico

      So true hound cat...too much hatred around...Bob

    • Hound Cat profile image

      Hound Cat 7 years ago from Los Angeles area of Southern California USA

      great hub. A writer cannot assume his audience will not be negatively affected by his words. Or that hurtful actions and effects will not follow. Unkind words have a life of their own, and verbal abuse can cause greater damage than physical abuse.

    • profile image

      diogenese 7 years ago

      I think it was the one the kids learned first...Bob

    • profile image

      nuc63x 7 years ago

      Thanks for posting this article it reminded me of the famous saying from my childhood

    • Rebecca E. profile image

      Rebecca E. 7 years ago from Canada

      this is true, but hey if you can see my mis-spells and the spellchecker cannnot, well in my book... there you go.

      See stick and stones, but being kind works wonders... meaning I think I fixed it

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 7 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Saint...I dunno, Rebecca: Diogenese was an atheist!

      Thanks for visit...Bob

    • Rebecca E. profile image

      Rebecca E. 7 years ago from Canada

      there you go, no you as editor, I can take it, you want me to do "better" you mean to help which is why you're a resident saint =)

      I "siad" so there.

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 7 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Thanks Rebecca and thanks for being so BIG in not minding me pointing out the small errors in an otherwise great article. I thought for many minutes before I did add that small criticism. We are so fragile in today's world and it is so easy to make an enemy when all you wanted to do was help...Bobx

      Sainthood? Well!!!

    • Rebecca E. profile image

      Rebecca E. 7 years ago from Canada

      One awesome hub bob--- I've come to expect no less from you.

      PS-- I finally figured out my spell check -- it acutally believes that my mispells are "standard" in my writing. I thank you very much =) for noticing these errors.

      You are a saint!

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 7 years ago from The English Midlands

      Whether it's actually right, or fair, to tell the children that is another matter, of course :)

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 7 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi Trish, yes, it's primarily for kiddiwinks. I didn't even think that, must be the second childhood...Bob

    • Trish_M profile image

      Tricia Mason 7 years ago from The English Midlands

      Yes, words can definitely hurt and the pain can last longer than physical pain.

      That little saying is told to children to try to make them feel braver, I think.

      Very good!

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 7 years ago from London, UK

      I think and know so that words are sharper than a sword and cut deeper. I have a lorry load full of it and I still get them. You are so right saying that many wars or fighting could have been avoided if the right word would have been spoken. I know how you feel but it is no good to ruin your life even more. I lnow it is hard, almost impossible, but try to push it well back into you mind. From you writing I only can say you are a fantastic person.You should hear the list they pinned on me. I often wondered if it is another person and I think it must be. Well, take care.

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 7 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Hi cathylynn. That type of verbal violence is not focussed on enough, I don't believe. I had a violent father: the physical stuff was rare, but his shouting, screaming and chasing an 8 year old kid around is never the point I often fantasise about killing him, (cigarettes did the job for me years ago). We do far too much terrorizing of children in the Anglo world: parents aren't arrested for verbal abuse often enough. It can scar the psyche wich doesn't recover any where near as well as broken skin or even bone. Thanks for visit dear...Bob

    • cathylynn99 profile image

      cathylynn99 7 years ago from northeastern US

      when i was a toddler, my dad was laid off and watching us while mom worked as a nurse. I don't remember what we were doing but he threatened to "bash our teeth down our throats" and "bash our heads against the wall". he never laid a finger on me, but i was always afraid of him all his life. words certainly do have power. thanks for bringing attention to this important topic.

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 7 years ago from UK and Mexico

      The Frog Prince

      Genna East


      Thank you for your comments which were thought-provoking to me...Bob

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 7 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      Bob, sometimes a person can say something and then regret it immediately. But like Frog said, they can't be taken back.

      However, words have only as much power as YOU give them. I am called names all the time, mostly relating to my weight. (I am metabolically challenged). I can fix it with surgery, but that's a whole other topic, so suffice it to say when people comment with 'hurtful' words, I give it no power whatsoever. I am what I am.

      My brother said once that hurtful words inspired him to discredit the person saying them. Prove them wrong. Ignore them.

      We love words, we're writers! But meaning comes from within. Words and thoughts can indeed be 'mightier than the sword', but they are also just words.

      It's sad to me that your friend 'saw nothing' when there is obviously a unique and special person in front of him. Some people are so blind.

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 7 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Spot-on, Dio. Words can hurt far more than sticks and stone. Words are "things" that have both created and changed history. Excellent hub!

    • The Frog Prince profile image

      The Frog Prince 7 years ago from Arlington, TX

      diogenes - words are very powerful. What I have learned is that you also can't take them back once they leave your inner being.

      Well written on the up and awesome level.

      Stop on by and get yourself an unkilled hamburger at my place. LMBO

      The Frog

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 7 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Spirit Whisperer: Thank you so much for your kind words and interest...Bob

    • Spirit Whisperer profile image

      Xavier Nathan 7 years ago from Isle of Man

      You certainly have a way with words and I am so glad I have come across your hubs. You now have an extra follower and I have voted you up and awesome.I will now be reading more of your work and I look forward to doing so. Thank you.

    • diogenes profile image

      diogenes 7 years ago from UK and Mexico

      Thanks Bobbi. I didn't even think of the kids angle: that's when the most harm can be down to impressionable young minds. I had all that from a rotten dad, too. Thanks for comment Bob

    • BobbiRant profile image

      BobbiRant 7 years ago from New York

      True, true. If words 'never hurt' then people wouldn't get sued for slander and so on. I often wonder how many young kids take harsh words from friends, teachers and sometimes parents, to heart and then give up trying at an early age. Great hub.


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