Have you ever threatened anyone?

Did you assume the bare-knuckled boxer’s stance or was your challenge verbal or visual? Was it conveyed with a scowl and narrowed eyes capable of searing the hide off your opponent? Or, did your Arctic glare release a salvo of ice chips chilling the object of your ire and anyone in the near vicinity to the very marrow of their bones?

Extremes of anger could inflict damage. In fact, the poet Robert Frost believed the destructive capabilities of Fire or Ice had the power to end the world.  Fortunately, most people just get ticked off without taking physical action against the one who crushed that last working nerve.

Depending on how full your cup of tolerance may be at any given time, your reaction to life’s little irritations may run the gamut of mildly annoyed up to and including the use of your outside voice. Comfortably entrenched between these two extremes is the world of benign threats.

Remember those thrilling days of your childhood when those childish antics pushed your maternal parent’s button once too often? Did she yell at you? If your transgressions included drawing on the floor or walls with crayons, she might have swatted your cute little gluteus maximus a couple of time as a reminder not to repeat such frowned upon behavior.

In my case, I loved the game of hopscotch so much that during the winter months I drew the game layout on the wood floor of my room with black crayon. To say that mother was displeased (in three languages) is an understatement. First, she spanked me. Then she made me kneel in a corner for what seemed an eternity (at least to a child).  Following the twofold punishment, I had to scrub the crayon marks off the floor.

Then came the almost de rigueur yet effective threat uttered by mothers since Eve threatened little Cain for being too rough with Abel. “Wait until your father gets home.”   With threats like that children dread, rather than look forward to, daddy’s homecoming.

If your parents adhered to the hands-on school of child-rearing, did you may turn out to be one of the few children raised as acceptable members of society (with perfection beaten into your behind)? Of course, children reared under the laissez-faire (and I want to be your best friend) parenting method have learned (and perfected) the fine art of intra-family head games.

Since family members tend to know each other’s vulnerabilities as well as the most effective methods for pushing the other’s hot buttons, blackmail is the preferred form of coercion. The usual sibling threat, “I’ll tell mom,” caused many a child to knuckle under to an older, or at times a clever younger, sibling.

Children worldwide have used variations of similar threats such as: “I’ll tell your mother” or “I’m telling the teacher” with varying degrees of success. In fact, sometimes snitching can backfire on the tattler in the most unexpected ways.

For example, a couple of years after my family came to America, I was playing with children in the neighborhood, and we had a disagreement. In retaliation, one of the children ran to my house shouting, “I’m telling your mom you said the F-word.”  After the boy made his accusation to my mother, she reached for the dictionary and asked in her Hungarian accented English, “How do you spell that?”

Her reaction and question took the wind out of his sails. And to his chagrin, he did not know how to spell the word.

Since spoken words can never be unsaid, is it a good idea to achieve your objective in a creative rather than a threatening way. No matter how playful your intimidation tactic may be, keep in mind that some people tend to be obtuse in emotional situations.

A female relative’s threat of choice (when she does not get her way) is to tell her husband: “You better be careful. I’ll tell my aunt what you said, and she’ll write a column about you.”

He was mildly terrified.