Myth: Tznius means that certain words are inappropriate.
Truth: Refined language is a good thing, but even this can go too far.
I remember being introduced to swear words as an adolescent and I remember being told that such language was not ladylike. At that age, I resented hearing such things, but B”H I had good influences and I grew out of it. Today, I do agree that refined language is a good thing. However, there are those who take this concept too far and it can even get dangerous.
From me, you get the truth.
There are people who won’t talk about certain body parts claiming that it’s not tznius-appropriate. Granted, there are certain things that are not appropriate for casual conversation, but this idea has unfortunately extended even into other things.
The most obvious example is breast cancer. There are those who won’t even talk about it for medical purposes because they’re afraid that those words are not tznius. This one is personal for me because my mom survived breast cancer thanks to a mammogram that caught the abnormality. Her cancer was caught so early that she didn’t need chemotherapy or radiation. Thanks to early detection methods, there are cancers that are caught early enough to ensure a good survival rate. But if people don’t know about these early detection methods, they can’t do much. There are even people who are afraid to say the word “cancer.” But it doesn’t go away by not talking about it.
(Side note: To all those out there who are dealing with any kind of medical issue, please do not think that you’re protecting your children or immediate family members by not telling them. They’ll worry less if they know what’s happening and they’ll be able to step up and help you, which will make them feel a little better. Plus, these things are part of their family medical history and their doctors are going to have to know about them anyway. I can’t get prostate cancer, but my doctors tell me that because my dad survived it, it’s part of my family medical history.)
Watching over our health and safety is a mitzvah mi’d’oraisa. The verse “V’nishmartem meod l’nafshoseichem” is used as the main source for this. We’re supposed to eat right, exercise, get regular checkups, and take safety precautions. That last one brings up a major pet peeve of mine. There are those who say that women shouldn’t wear seatbelts because they outline the body in a way that isn’t appropriate. I wish I could dismiss that as an urban legend, but it unfortunately isn’t one, and it leaves me furious. This, too, is personal for me, because I survived a car accident at age 15 thanks to my seatbelt.
Then there’s the issue of inappropriate touch. We need to protect our children from anyone who might hurt them that way. We must teach our children to tell and assure them that telling is the right thing to do. However, it’s much harder to tell if we’re so worried about tznius and refined language that we don’t teach our children the correct vocabulary to use. There are those who teach that “No one may touch the parts of your body covered by your bathing suit,” and that can work. But we still need to teach our children what those parts are called. Then we can explain that those parts are not appropriate for polite, casual, conversation and that they need to tell us if anyone other than the doctor does talk about them.
Yes, tznius does demand refined language. We are created in the image of G-d and we should speak in ways that reflect that dignity. But when our health and safety are at issue, those take precedence.