Words are not just important, they are the building blocks that support education in every subject and they provide the basis for all education, whether it takes the shape of formal schooling or the informal shape of the every day education that takes place within the home, or one’s local and family culture or on “the street” or “hood” or whatever and wherever. And they can tell you a lot about a person and where they are from and how they think and even what generation they belong to. For example:
One day in school, an older teacher was trying to explain to her younger colleague the play that she had recently attended at her son’s high school.
The play was entitled “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” but the older woman’s age and sensibilities about such language could not permit her to say that word, “Whorehouse” in the company of someone who she did not know well. So she said…
“Last night we saw “The Best Little Hmm Hmm in Texas” at my son’s school.”
To which her young colleague replied, “What the fuck are you talking about?”
Two different generations and two different sensibilities about language and propriety and even the sense of what it means to “swear” in public.
More Fun with Words
Here’s another example:
How can an argument start with, “Excuse Me”?
Some public school students are so angry and belligerent that they can begin an argument with only the slightest provocation and when something is bothering them the words just don’t matter.
Take for example the student who was walking down the hall at my high school one day and accidentally bumped into another student. She said, “Excuse me.” That sounds polite and courteous doesn’t it? Exactly how you’d hope one student would talk to another when an accident occurs…but the student who had been bumped into replied, “Excuse me?! Excuse you!” To which the first student replied, “No, excuse you!”
Second student: “Well, fuck you!”
First student: “Fuck you!”
…and the fight was in full rage, all begun with a seemingly harmless, “Excuse me”
…and the security guards never saw it coming.
…and it all began with the correct and proper words!
And sometimes words don’t make any sense at all…
One day in my class a student walked in and said,
“Hey, Mr. P. What the dilly yo?”
And I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about or even if it was the English language he was using but they were real words with real meaning and they made sense to him.
Another truth about words and the evolution of language in our public schools and in our society is that literacy is literally going out of style. And words and their meanings are changing so quickly that as a teacher. One must be very careful with the words he or she uses when speaking in front of a classroom of teenagers, adolescents and dare I even say grammar school kids?
Swearing” certainly doesn’t mean what it used to and not all words maintain their meanings nor their status as “improper” words…language and words live and evolve (and sometimes die too…Et tu, Brute?) and we all need to live and grow with them… even though sometimes we might want to go kicking and screaming.
So speak softly and carry a BIG dictionary!