“Play is a four letter word”

… is a phrase I hear fairly often, especially from teachers telling me how recess has been abbreviated or cut entirely from their setting.  They are sharing a common belief that play is dangerous or wasteful or subversive, or that it is perceived as such by those in power.  Eyes are rolled, and I’m sympathetic but torn because, of course, play can be all of those things, but that’s entirely beside the point.  People can be all of those things, and many more.

Instead, I get caught on the notion of ‘four letter words’.  This euphemism for swearing has always seemed a funny one, especially coming from teachers who know  more than anyone of the fabulous four letter words in English.

Love.  True.  Hope.  Hear.  Home.  Feel.

Easy.  Hard.  Both.

But how, exactly, is play like none of these words but instead like fuck and shit?  Is play so vulgar and so shocking?  Is it like both those words, human but somehow shameful?  Or perhaps play is simply seen as one of the many things in life which may exist, but which adults prefer to pretend does not.

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One thought on ““Play is a four letter word”

  1. This all brings to mind something I read in a book on modern architecture (Kozlovsky) and its links to children. From my review (indulging in the dubious practice of quoting oneself, lazily so!):

    Congrès Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM) influence José Luis Sert, apparently, disapproved of play in the street because it didn’t fit well with functional city compartmentalisation, i.e. work, recreation, dwelling, transportation.

    Adult compartmentalisation still goes on.

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