Ask Amy

The Denver Post - - LIFE&CULTURE - by Amy Dick­in­son

Dear Amy: In the last few years, my mid­dle-aged aunt adopted a par­tic­u­lar word to ex­press mild an­noy­ance. For ex­am­ple, when our plans for Sun­day brunch had to be can­celed, she used this word.

It is a word you hear oc­ca­sion­ally in Bri­tish movies or tele­vi­sion shows, but I don’t think it is widely used in North Amer­ica.

I’ve been sus­pi­cious that she doesn’t know the ori­gin or mean­ing of this word, and I as­sume she would be em­bar­rassed if she said it in front of some­one — like a Brit — who did know and took of­fense.

For con­text, I have never heard my gen­tle aunt say even the mildest ex­ple­tive (“darn” is as close as she has come to swear­ing in front of our fam­ily), so I do not think that she is aware of what she is saying.

To be sure, I looked up the word, and it is deemed a “term of abuse,” “deroga­tory,” and is con­sid­ered to be ho­mo­pho­bic. I be­lieve that my aunt would be hor­ri­fied to know this, but I also don’t want to po­lice the words of the people around me. What should I do to han­dle this grace­fully? — Con­cerned Niece

Dear Con­cerned: Thank you for sup­ply­ing the word in ques­tion, which I have redacted from your let­ter, for the rea­sons you state. To de­scribe it, how­ever — ba­si­cally your non-swear­ing aunt is fling­ing the “F-bomb,” with a (po­ten­tially) ho­mo­pho­bic twist. It’s a very long way from “darn” to this ex­pres­sion.

The way to gen­tly cor­rect some­one is to do so pri­vately, one time only, and with no ex­tra com­men­tary.

You might say to her, “I no­tice you oc­ca­sion­ally say that word; have you ever looked up what it means?” She can then ei­ther ask you, or qui­etly look it up on her own. Ul­ti­mately, she might re­late that she heard Hugh Grant say it in a movie, and if Hugh said it, it must be OK.

A sub­sti­tute English ex­pres­sion she might adopt in­stead would be the milder (but still some­what vul­gar) “bol­locks.” I give it my stamp of ap­proval, be­cause I heard Idris Elba say it in a movie, and so it must be OK.

Dear Amy: Last year my brother mar­ried a lovely woman whom he had met over­seas. They made their home here in the U.S., and had a baby shortly there­after.

We had thought the mar­riage was a happy one, but she misses her fam­ily and her home coun­try very much. She and my brother are now end­ing their mar­riage and she and the baby will be mov­ing back to her fam­ily.

As the years pass and this child grows up, how best can we (aunt and un­cle) main­tain some con­tact with the child? We’d like there to be some re­la­tion­ship, no mat­ter how great the dis­tance.

Dear Ea­ger: The best way to main­tain a re­la­tion­ship with this child (and the best pre­dic­tor of how this re­la­tion­ship will evolve) is the friend­ship you will be able to main­tain with the child’s mother. She will be the con­duit to the child.

Al­ways re­mem­ber birth­days and other spe­cial oc­ca­sions. Send cards and short let­ters (even be­fore the child can read). Ask the child’s mother if you can oc­ca­sion­ally Skype with the fam­ily to check in, and elec­tron­i­cally share pho­tos back and forth.

I hope that as this child grows, they will have a pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ship with their fa­ther and the rest of their Amer­i­can fam­ily. Vis­its back and forth will be im­por­tant, and your notes, cards and mod­est gifts will help to sus­tain the re­la­tion­ship be­tween vis­its.

I want to re­as­sure you that while it is chal­leng­ing to build a re­la­tion­ship in­ter­na­tion­ally, a child can feel loved, even from a dis­tance. I ap­plaud your de­sire to try.

Dear Amy: OMG I shud­dered when I read the let­ter from “Once and Fu­ture Girl­friend,” whose “boyfriend” stole her car and was cur­rently in jail for other of­fenses. I ad­mit I was wor­ried about how you might re­spond to this doozy.

Thank you for sug­gest­ing var­i­ous brands of sneak­ers she might wear for the fastest get­away. And when you sug­gested that she and the jail­bird guy’s other girl­friend should “Thelma and Louise it,” I laughed out loud.

I think that a good gen­eral rule is that if your guy steals your car, that’s a deal breaker. — Fan

Dear Fan: Let’s get the T-shirt made!

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