Ms. C? I have a question about a word….

9 10 2007

“Ms. C?” one boy asks me while I’m erasing the board and preparing to write down the day’s agenda.

“What’s ‘pussy’?”

I drop the eraser. “Um,” I think for a second, “it means ‘cat.'”

“‘Pussy’ means ‘cat’? Why does that boy always call me a ‘pussy’ if it means ‘cat’?”

“Well,” I responded, face red and growing more panicky, “um, it’s also a bad word. So you shouldn’t say it. Ever. And that boy shouldn’t say it. Ever.”

“What does the ‘pussy’ mean?” he asked again. (A common thing for English language learners is to place an article “the” or “a/an” before almost each and every noun, because that’s how Portuguese works.)

“It’s a very bad word and you shouldn’t say it,” I told him, not able to bring myself to explain the more common meaning.

He grabbed a dictionary. “Can I just look the ‘pussy’ up?”

“It probably won’t be in the dictionary,” I said. “It’s slang.”

“But what does it mean?” Man this kid is persistent. “Is it like ‘b-i-t-‘”

“Worse!” I interrupted him. “Just don’t say it!”

Thankfully, more students entered the room and both of us were quickly distracted from our conversation, and now that I think back on it I wished I’d handled the whole thing more casually. But if there’s one word I hate, it’s that one. So I kind of reacted a little more seriously than I should have. For a second I forgot I have a right to explain things, and that I should be explaining things, to my kids. But some words are so foul–and so out of place in a school–that I forget.

I did, on the other hand, manage to throw the word “booby” into classroom conversation three times when my kids were snickering at the words “booby trap” that someone snuck into the room under his breath. Before I knew it, in the middle of a conversation about the Holocaust, kids’ faces were lighting up red and they were doing their best to keep their laughter in. So when one kid asked, “Ms. C? What’s a booby trap,” and after I’d begun to explain, I realized every time I said “booby trap,” the kids’ faces got even more hysterical with pent up laughter.

“Okay,” I announced. “Ha ha ha, Ms. Coggio just said ‘booby’.” It’s very funny. Go ahead and laugh.” My god, if there were ever an eruption to rival that of Mt. Vesuvius, it would have been the one in my classroom after I gave my students permission to laugh at the word “booby.”

My mother was a health teacher in her day. I grew up using the technical terms for everything and shunning the use of slang for the various body parts. In fact, my mother was so serious about me using the real terms (for the sake of being comfortable with the language later on) to this day I’m still not sure what a “pie hole” is, or if it is indeed “pie hole” or “cake hole.” Could be both; they are very similar desserts. In any case, today’s throwing around of random body parts slang would have been like a giant pay day for my mother. I can just hear her now: “It’s not ‘booby,’ kids. It’s ‘breast.’ It’s made of fatty tissue that both men and women have. The darkened area surrounding the nipple is is called an areola and…”

Each of my students would have a brain aneurism from trying to contain uproarious laughter. I would give anything to see that. (Not the aneurisms, of course, but my kids’ faces.) The closest thing I have to being able to teach like my mother is to not tell my kids what “pussy” means, and then saying “booby” out loud until they’re all rolling with tears streaming down their faces. I think this is why parents don’t talk to their own kids about sex. Because I am all in favor of not explaining awkward terminology and laughing at funny sounding words in the middle of class.

(Why am I a teacher again?)


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18 responses

9 10 2007
chich

Oh so that’s what you were talking about when we came in? I thought of every other possibility of conversation except that one. Very strange conversation.

9 10 2007
Sofy

Because you knew deep in your heart that if you were a teacher, then one day you would meet me. And you love me.

Parents do talk to their kids about sex. Well, mine do, if I ask something. And I think Cary’s parents do to.

-Sofy

9 10 2007
Catherine

Every day is an adventure when you’re dealing with kids! At least it made for a great blog post????

9 10 2007
Sofy

Oh, and think about it. There are worse words he could’ve asked for the definition of.

-Sofy

9 10 2007
chich

yeah true. u have to think positive and about wat could have happened that would have embaressed u even more!

9 10 2007
Lorraine

By the way it actually is in the dictionary. Maybe not in the school dictionaries you have in your room, but it’s still there. He’ll find out eventually what it means.

9 10 2007
luanaspider

Really Ms. C it could be much worse!!

9 10 2007
bella94

Ms.C, who asked you that??? hauAHuhauHAUhauHAUhauHUAhauHAUhauHAUhauHAUhauHAUhauHUAuhaUHAUhuahUAHUhauHAU. Ms.C, you know my hysterical, out of breath, monkey like laughter?? I’m laughing that way, times 5. hauHAUhauHAUhauHAU.
bye bye

10 10 2007
Janet

Oh, kids can be so much fun.

10 10 2007
marissa

I thought that with the advent of the information-at -your-fingertips internet, kids would no longer have to ask us questions about anything. I mean REALLY, what topic exists that a curious kid could wonder about that he could not Google?

10 10 2007
ginacoggio

Marissa, the problem isn’t their not being able to find the definition of the word. The problem is their not being able to find the definition of the word NOW NOW NOW NOW!!!! So they ask questions to teachers all the time because it’s easy. I’d love to teach them to slow down and find answers on their own, but then there would be a derth of posts like the one above. And that, too, would be a problem.

10 10 2007
Nilsa S.

Funny thing is … that scenario might not be altered much if it were a room of adults. My boyfriend and I laugh uncontrollably when we make each other say “do do” … and we’re in our 30s. Yikes! Reminds me of that Barenaked Ladies song … “I just made you say underwear.” *snicker*

10 10 2007
catch

brings back memories…there is no more certain way to crack an otherwise stone-faced exterior, on kids of all ages, than saying words that remind one of body parts…

“you said booby…ahhuuuhhh, huhhh, huhhh” *my attempt at beavis and butthead laughter*

I know a guy that says pussycat…every time he talks about a feline…makes for interesting facial expressions / responses in mixed company.

10 10 2007
Susan

I had to laugh about “booby trap”..its just such a funny word. I seriously was embarrassed for you over the boys question about the said “P” word. I do however use it when my much older sister is getting on my nerves because she sincerely HATES it.
I am all for children learning about sex from strangers. J/k, but life would be easier that way…don’t you think?

10 10 2007
sangroncito

Eliomar`s brother made me write bad words in English on a small marker board and attached it to the refrigerator and now he delights in saying them all day long….chato.

10 10 2007
ginacoggio

I delighted in learning bad Portuguese words, but because I’ve never had any occasion to use them, I’ve forgotten them all. Now I’m back to the technical terms for body parts. Go figure.

10 10 2007
ginacoggio

Catch–I still do Beavis & Butthead laughs with my friends. It’s surprising how low down you can bring a conversation by inserting even just a second of their laughter.🙂

19 05 2008
D’oh! skin. « A Year Here / A Year There

[…] with ELL kids in the first place is hilarious because of all the questions they ask, and I know (man, do I know) how difficult it is to learn a second language and to speak it in […]

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